Did Begala punk the Post?

Perry Bacon wrote an interesting but mainly low-impact story on Operation Rushbo for today’s Washington Post, after interviewing a number of people of the Right.  The steam went out of this report after Politico’s explosive exposure of the Operation Rushbo in the White House, coordinated though Rahm Emanuel to Clintonistas James Carville and Paul Begala (as well as Rahm’s landlord, Stan Greenberg).  Instead of getting that kind of scoop, Bacon looked at how the Republican Establishment tries to find an alliance with Rush:

For a man who expresses no desire to lead the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh has a knack for creating problems for those who do.

Still smarting from consecutive electoral drubbings, Republicans now find themselves caught in a crossfire between Democrats pressuring them to denounce the conservative talk radio host’s bombastic criticism of a popular new president and his own denunciations of their party as an embarrassment.

The ongoing controversy over Limbaugh’s statement in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday that he wants “Barack Obama to fail” and the aggressive Democratic pushback it drew has emerged as the latest challenge for a party struggling to find its voice and lacking an obvious national leader.

Few Republicans are eager to alienate Limbaugh’s millions of avid listeners. But as party officials work to expand their shrinking coalition, they are also vexed about how to contend with his more pointed commentaries on hot-button issues and a president whom most in the party have been reluctant to criticize.

Unfortunately, Bacon fell into the Operation Rushbo trap by inadvertently giving a voice to one of its chiefs:

“Rush is the bloated face and drug-addled voice of the Republican Party,” said Paul Begala, a longtime Democratic strategist who rose to prominence during Bill Clinton’s presidency. “Along with lots of others, I intend to continue to turn up the heat until every alleged Republican either endorses or renounces Rush’s statement that he hopes our president fails.”

The news that Begala helped cook up this attack last October and has secretly been tasked with carrying out should embarrass the Post a little for using him in this piece.  It certainly puts a different spin on the story.  It also places the responsibility for the personal attacks on Rush and his earlier addiction to painkillers squarely on Barack Obama’s shoulders.  This is his operation, and Begala’s his errand boy here.  Every word that drips out of Begala’s mouth on this topic comes straight from Rahm Emanuel and therefore Obama.

Bacon left out an interview he did with Hugh Hewitt for this piece, and Hugh notes that the discussion has largely been eclipsed by more recent developments.  Hugh insisted on conducting the interview as a recorded dialogue for broadcast when the Post published the piece, and Jim Geraghty — subbing for Hugh again tonight — will air it in its entirety on tonight’s show.  Duane “Generalissimo” Patterson sent me this excerpt from the transcript:

HH: Who else are you talking to in the course of developing this story?

PB: You know, I’m going to try to talk to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, but I think they are a little hard to reach on like a two-day deadline, or a two or three day period. So I’m going to talk to some other Republican consultants here in town, and again, a couple of, I talked to Jack Kingston. You know, him?

HH: Oh yeah.

PB: He’s a Republican Congressman…

HH: Georgia.

PB: And he gave me some talk show people he listens to who are in the Georgia area who might be a little bit more reachable for me in like a short time, so I’m going to try and talk to a few sort of local, you know, people who are influential in their communities, but not sort of have 20 million listeners and that kind of thing.

HH: Yeah, and my one suggestion to you is Ed Morrissey at Hot Air…

PB: Okay.

HH: …because Ed not only does internet radio, but he kind of patrols the whole waterfront I do for www.townhall.com, so I’m not going to send you to another one of my people.

PB: Right.

HH: But Ed is not part of www.townhall.com. He has his finger on, and often follows very closely all of the controversies surrounding talk radio in a way that very few journalists do in a very balanced and comprehensive way, so I think I’d suggest you go check him out at some point.

Perry and I have corresponded on a few occasions, but I didn’t hear from him on this story.  It will be interesting to hear him interviewing Hugh and Hugh interviewing him back on tonight’s show.