Dear Dana Milbank,
I have to admit that your columns are usually a guilty pleasure. I probably agree with you less often than Shana Alexander agreed with James Kilpatrick on 60 Minutes, but you write with style and an obvious sense of fun. Politics gets awfully fusty and hidebound, and we need someone with the talent to skewer, even when it’s mostly in service to one particular side.
In an attempt to disprove that last part, today you lapsed into the lazy and reflexive “look how many people hate me” genre of column-writing. I know you read extensively on politics, so you can’t have possibly thought this was original:
On Tuesday, I learned that I am a right-wing hack. I am not a journalist. I am typical of the right wing. I am why newspapers are going broke. I write garbage. I am angry with Barack Obama. I misquote Obama. I am bitter. I am a certified idiot. I am lame. I am a Republican flack.
On Thursday, I realized that I am a media pimp with my lips on Obama’s butt. I am a bleeding-heart liberal who wants nothing more than for the right to fall on its face. I am part of the ObamaMedia. I am pimping for the left. I am carrying water for Obama. Lord, am I an idiot.
I discovered all this from the helpful feedback provided to me in the “reader comments” section at the end of my past four columns on washingtonpost.com. I undertook this exercise on the advice of former washingtonpost.com editor Doug Feaver, who wrote on these pages recently that journalists need to take the comments seriously [“Listening to the Dot-Comments,” op-ed, April 9]. Further, he added in his blog, “those who don’t are making a mistake.”
Do the layers of editors and fact-checkers give seminars on how to write this column? Almost every mainstream media columnist at some time has suddenly gotten an urge to justify their existence by claiming a centrist position based on the fact that they get a wide range of hate mail and comments. “Oh, I can’t be a knee-jerk liberal/conservative,” they argue, “because people on the left and the right both say I stink!”
Well, that doesn’t mean you’re a centrist; it means that you annoy people across a wide spectrum. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either; the job of a pundit is to provoke debate, conversation, even a pulse. But commenting on comments is hardly interesting or provoking; it’s a waste of space in an industry where space costs money. And in the end it means … nothing.
At least this is better than some of your colleagues’ attempts to justify their position by holding up threats as badges of honor. That’s the “I must have been right because I got hate mail” response, after a dumb column provoked even less intelligent response from readers. All that means is that really stupid people read the column and couldn’t deal with disagreement in a cogent and rational manner, which has nothing to do with the source material. Threats prove nothing other than the intellectual level of the person who uses them.
Even you have to admit that this column is, well, lame. It’s the equivalent of the inevitable soliloquy at the end of every Scooby Doo episode where Old Man Withers says, “I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those darned kids!” At least Michael Malone gave some entertainment value out of his I-finally-read-my-comments essay.
Stick to column writing and political coverage, and skip the feedback. Except mine, of course. And buy George Will a pair of jeans, will you?