Is it something in the water?

Dana Milbank carries Karl Rove’s water for him. Milbank knows better.

Dana Milbank is a good, competent reporter. It’s not a secret to him that the Bush Administration is monumentally lawless and corrupt.

But instead of reporting on the confrontation between BushCo and a newly energized Congress committed to performing its oversight function, Milbank gives us 25 grafs of pure snark and sneer, clearly implying that Congress is a contemptible institution.

The story starts and ends with nasty, feeble humor:

There’s a reason why being in contempt of Congress is classified as a misdemeanor.

… if most Americans were to express their true feelings about Congress, they’d be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

At no point does Milbank suggest what it is he thinks the House Judiciary Committee is doing wrong, or what he thinks the Committee should do instead, in the face of Administration stonewalling. Nor does he make an argument about why the Congress shouldn’t be concerned about whether it will win or lose the coming Constitutional clash. Instead, he sneers about the tendency to “discuss the forthcoming court battle as if it were a prizefight.”

Milbank “even-handedly” expresses his contempt both for the Democrats attempting to uphold the Constitution and for the Republicans attempting to subvert it. But of course in an institutional confrontation between the Congress and the Presidency, slamming all Members of Congress indiscriminately favors the Presidency: an institution no respectable Washington reporter would dare denounce in such sloppy fashion. The story couldn’t better serve Karl Rove’s purposes if he had written it himself.

Milbank isn’t entirely even-handed even among Congressfolk: he offers his only word of praise is a for a Sensenbrenner proposal that would tie the “executive privilege” question up in a lawsuit that would allow the Administration to run out the clock. The fact that the President has just ordered the Justice Department not to do what a long-standing statute requires it to do &#8212 refer a contempt citation to a grand jury &#8212 is not so much as hinted at. The underlying scandal &#8212 the political skulduggery around the U.S. Attorney firings and the ludicrously incompetent cover-up, featuring multiple perjuries &#8212 is never mentioned.

Is this really what it takes to keep your standing among the Washington Kool Kidz and your column in the Washington Post? Or is there some subtle toxin in the Capitol drinking water that deprives reporters of their good sense?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: