BROOKE GLADSTONE: The White House Pool Report is a relatively brief synopsis of events written by a designated reporter to be used by the rest of the press corps. A few weeks back the White House received this pool report -- Time Marine One pulled up at Andrews: 8:47. Wheels up for Air Force One: 8:57. Numbers of engines on Air Force One: four. Time aloft: 1:16. Having your pool report distributed to the White House staff and a thousand strangers, priceless. The author was Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank, wryly referring to the fact that the once relatively exclusive pool reports are now spread indiscriminately to party hacks, lobbyists --anyone who cares, journalist or not. But the pool reports are one thing. A low level annoyance for the White House. Where Dana Milbank has really managed to get under the administration's skin is in his newspaper. New York Times reporter Paul Krugman wrote in an op-ed piece last month that Milbank had become the target of a White House smear campaign.
DANA MILBANK: I read an article a couple of weeks ago looking at, oh, a dozen or so examples of things that the president said that actually turned out not to be quite right. And that set off a, a, a furious response from the White House which partially objected on, on factual grounds but more than that through a series of anonymous calls or in, in some cases actually using their names called around town not to challenge the facts in the article but actually to say that I had it in for them in the first place and-- you know, sort of a shoot-the-messenger kind of thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well the, the title of the article was: For Bush, Facts are Malleable, and although this may be a tradition among a succession of presidents, the fact is, is that Bush seems to have gotten a free ride on, on most of his misstatements -- or so you contend.
DANA MILBANK: Yes, he has. I mean this is part of a larger ongoing debate about has the press been hard on Bush at all, and, and generally it hasn't been. Now there's a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is we were attacked a year ago and-- it's a very different climate. They're, they're very - whereas the, the Clinton administration became very used to sort of having the daily attacks on them, this is something that the Bush administration has not had. Now this, the sort of thing I wrote is something that would have, would have been written about the Clinton administration on any given day, so I think they just found it to be out of character with the sort of coverage they're used to getting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And isn't that the point? Mark Halperin, of ABC, said that you're the one reporter who has questioned the actions of the government most consistently. This is a rather odd position to be in, isn't it?
DANA MILBANK: Yes, and I don't, I don't view myself as leading some sort of a crusade here. The truth is I w-- in other jobs I have covered the Clinton administration, I covered the Gore campaign, and in each of those times I would get a certain amount of criticism for being unfair to the guy and each of them assumed that I had a bias. Then they assumed I had a, had a conservative bia. Now they assume I have a liberal bias. I, I mean my bias is in terms of being a watchdog, of trying to point out what the facts are. The truth is the president has thousands of people to go out there and say he's a great guy and he's doing everything terrific. I, I feel that our job is not to amplify that but to take a critical look at things.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you feel sometimes that you're hanging out there by yourself or perhaps that you're not long for this job?
DANA MILBANK:[LAUGHS] Or long for this world. Well you know, look the-- my accountant says we're going to get through this IRS audit just fine. But no, I-- actually when I get in these--arguments with the administration, it actually has the perverse effect of sort of reinforcing my position at - on this beat that the newspaper couldn't and wouldn't allow me to change at this point in time when we are en--engaged in some sort of an exchange like this. So--
BROOKE GLADSTONE:That's a curious kind of job security! You keep ticking off the White House and the Washington Post'll be too embarrassed to fire you, because it'll look like capitulation.
DANA MILBANK: Oh, I wasn't suggesting firing. I was, I was-- [LAUGHTER] I hope that's not what they're thinking of doing! I was thinking of you know sort of more of a desk job where you can-- which is the job I had before I started the White House beat.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The White House's main weapon against the press corps is to deny access if they get too irritated with what a particular reporter is writing. Have you been frozen out?
DANA MILBANK: I have exactly as much access as I had when I began which is to say not very much access at all. The, this administration does not release information. The truth is, if this administration were interested in rewarding and punishing correspondents to guide coverage in that way, they could do that; they just have not chosen to do that. So essentially they -- everybody is treated the same which is to say, badly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:We've heard from a few White House reporters about the need for the occasional beat sweetener -- these are stories that basically suck up to the administration in office, so how do you maintain your access and your sources if you refuse to write a puff piece now and then?
DANA MILBANK: There have been times when I've written those sorts of stories that they call and want reprints for and that I get scolded for buying the administration line too much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do you do it for the purposes of sweetening your beat?
DANA MILBANK:I, I did a couple of those when I started out. I mean I really believe that there's absolutely no use in doing that with this particular administration because the information is just going to be controlled in such a way -- what we do-- doesn't matter; it doesn't matter what kinds of stories we're writing. But you could look at it another way, and it is a noble way -- you just write what you believe is going on, and when I write something that's very favorable to the White House point of view -- and believe it or not, that actually occurs quite regularly -- I'm writing it because that is what appears to be the truth! So in a way-- that this whole nefarious system has liberated us to actually tell the truth about what's going on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dana Milbank, thank you very much.
DANA MILBANK: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dana Milbank is a White House correspondent for the Washington Post.
BOB GARFIELD: Next up, a guerilla journalist feeds the beast in Chicago and films that probably won't be coming to a theater near you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media, from NPR.
"Ad Lib Blues"
by Benny Goodman Sextet