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The Washington Post Civility Gap

Saturday, 14 February 2004 12:00 AM

A few days before the president’s State of the Union speech, the Washington Post issued a report card on the state of civility in Washington politics. Not surprisingly, staff writers Dana Milbank and David Broder concluded, “the tone of political discourse is as bad as ever — if not worse” in Washington. Equally unsurprising is their conclusion that it’s all President Bush’s fault. Their article’s subtitle says it all: “In Bush’s Time, Tone Worsened, Partisans Say.”

Among the causes for the demise of civility they are careful to cite structural changes in Congress that redistricted liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats out of existence. And they acknowledge that the competition for face time on TV most commonly rewards the “most inflammatory” politicians.

But they also blame President Bush for not making his post-election “pledge to change the tone [in Washington] a top priority.” They even unearthed some administration officials, speaking anonymously of course, complaining that Bush could have done more to improve civility in Washington politics.

For the most part, however, the two argue that Republicans in both the White House and on Capitol Hill have just been “too uncompromising.” Senate Democrat Harry Reid told them that he had “never served with anybody who is so uncooperative.” Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader, charged that President Bush “has a big share of responsibility” for what Daschle says is a more acrimonious, confrontational style of politics in Washington today.

Milbank and Broder do cite Sen. Ted Kennedy’s attacks on the Bush administration as contributing to the worsening tone. It’s probably just a coincidence that the Post ran Sen. Kennedy’s “A Dishonest War” on its opinion page the same day. In it, Kennedy alleges that President Bush “violated the trust that must exist between government and the people” with his decision to make war on Saddam Hussein. He doesn’t deserve to be re-elected, according to Kennedy.

Some would question why Milbank was given the assignment in the first place. Conservatives regularly “deconstruct” his articles on their Internet Web sites and find repeated examples of “contempt” and “sarcasm” in his coverage of the White House. He is reportedly the White House’s least favorite journalist and he has complained that the White House “froze him out” after he wrote stories critical of the president. His editor admits that his articles had “a lot of attitude.”

Nor does the Post do much for civility when it repeatedly distorts the administration’s record on Iraq. The very next day the Post ran an article by Glenn Kessler entitled “Arms Issue Seen as Hurting U.S. Credibility Abroad.” Kessler led with the thoroughly discredited assertion that the administration alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction represented “an imminent threat.”

On its Web site, the Post continues to feature Vice President Cheney’s “reconstituted nuclear weapons” quote from his March appearance on “Meet the Press.” Cheney acknowledged that he had “misspoke” and says he meant to say, “reconstituted nuclear weapons program.”

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A few days before the president's State of the Union speech, the Washington Post issued a report card on the state of civility in Washington politics. Not surprisingly, staff writers Dana Milbank and David Broder concluded, "the tone of political discourse is as bad as ever...
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Saturday, 14 February 2004 12:00 AM
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