Pathetic, although it sounds like he had no choice. He’s not glory-seeking: the tone is overwhelmingly apologetic, and besides, I imagine it would be bad business in the newsroom if an editor took credit publicly for a celebrated passage under one of his writers’ bylines against that writer’s wishes. I have to believe that John Bresnahan, the author of the article in question, either asked Harris to write this or okayed it when Harris approached him with the idea.

And why would Harris do that? Because the “slow bleed” language has made Bresnahan’s life “more difficult.” Which presumably means either congressional Democrats are punishing Bresnahan by freezing him out or Bresnahan’s having to deal with a flood of nutroots-brand love letters addressed to the traitor who coined the term that’s caused them so much trouble.

So Harris put him out of his misery.

“Slow bleed” is my phrase. Murtha had nothing to do with it. Neither did John Bresnahan, the reporter whose name was on the Politico story in which the “slow-bleed strategy” made its debut…

Like many others who weighed in, [Republican National Committee Chairman Mike] Duncan incorrectly stated that “slow-bleed” was the name that Democrats were using to describe their strategy.

Here is where remorse kicks in. As happens all the time in journalism, this was a decision — made on the fly and under deadline — that I would have taken back in the morning. It is Murtha’s job to defend his own policies. But I’d prefer not to hand his opponents ammunition in the form of evocative but loaded language…

Please note the context: What is slowly bleeding away is the administration’s political support to keep fighting the war. Republicans pounced on the phrase because of the ease with which that context could be shorn away, to give the impression that what Democrats were slow-bleeding were the bodies of troops in Iraq.

That willingness to wrest words from context — and to attribute the phrase to Democrats even though it was not theirs — was demagogic on the part of Republican operatives. But it was never my plan to make their work so easy.

A journalist’s job is supposed to clarify political debate, not further muddy it. In the two weeks since his original article, Bresnahan’s reporting has continued to clarify the unfolding Iraq story, even as his editors made life more difficult for him.

The bolded bit about context and the alleged real meaning of “slow bleed” is shameless, groveling nonsense. The headline of the piece in which the term debuted was, “House Democrats’ New Strategy: Force Slow End to War.” The very first sentence connected the term to limiting the administration’s warmaking options, not ebbing popular support for the mission. The lefties at Salon think so, too:

See if that’s how you read the “context” in the story the Politico posted earlier this month: “Top House Democrats, working in concert with anti-war groups, have decided against using congressional power to force a quick end to U.S. involvement in Iraq, and instead will pursue a slow-bleed strategy designed to gradually limit the administration’s options.” That’s the lead. It took two more paragraphs before the story mentioned the idea that the war might be “politically unsustainable,” and the piece later referred to Murtha’s plan as a way to give “political cover to conservative House Democrats who are nervous about appearing ‘anti-military’ while also mollifying the anti-war left.”

“Slow bleed” means exactly what the right claims it means, which is also exactly what Harris meant it to mean and exactly what Murtha’s strategy actually is. But he’s getting hassled by the left now and he can’t afford to have Politico’s congressional beat dry up when the site’s just a month old and trying to compete with established political newspapers. So rather than stand by a sharp, vivid piece of writing, he cravenly apologizes for giving the Republicans ammunition.

Exit question: Salon wants to know, “Now that Harris has made it clear that Democrats didn’t call their plan a ‘slow bleed,’ will the media stop referring to the plan that way?” Exit answer: Sure. Just as soon as the left stops referring to the surge as a Nam-vintage “escalation.”