This article appears in the July 26, 2004, issue of National Review.
On April 17, two days before the official publication of Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post appeared on the Today show to discuss the book’s political impact. White House officials “have good reason to be worried,” said Milbank. “I think we finally found the weapon of mass destruction here.” He continued: “The administration will have a much tougher time knocking down Bob Woodward than they have had in dealing with some of their other critics.”
Yet the Bush team hasn’t tried to knock down Woodward–it’s been too busy pumping him up. On the president’s re-election website, there’s a “suggested reading list.” Plan of Attack
sits at the top. There’s even a link to Amazon.com, for purchasing convenience. The GOP has been called “the stupid party” before, but encouraging people to buy a book like the one Milbank described would be about as smart as screening Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11
at a Bush-Cheney fundraiser.
To be sure, Plan of Attack is no reverential tribute to Bush’s presidential leadership. John Kerry’s campaign has tried to exploit several of its details. By embracing the book, GOP strategists perhaps intended to smother some of its criticisms. But Plan of Attack is certainly not the full-frontal offensive of Milbank’s telling. “I don’t know whether [Bush has] read it,” said Woodward in a CNN interview. “Somebody who has talked to him said he’s looked at the book, and he’s happy with it.”
Bush’s top staff, however, is definitely not happy with Milbank. He holds one of the premier jobs in political journalism–White House correspondent for the Washington Post–yet he approaches his beat with anything but balance, as his attempt to shape public perceptions of the Woodward book demonstrates. The bias comes as no surprise, given his profession. In a recent Pew Research Center survey of national journalists (such as Milbank), 34 percent labeled themselves “liberal” and only 7 percent labeled themselves “conservative.” (Most say they are “moderate”–which is how Dan Rather describes the New York Times.) Even in this crowd of semi-closeted Democrats, however, Milbank stands out as probably the most anti-Bush reporter currently assigned to the White House by a major news organization.
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