The flap over whether Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is the administration's savior or saboteur took a great turn this a.m. when the Washington Post, which kicked off the game with a couple of stories about how Emanuel has fought to save the president from himself, attacked itself on the op-ed page for producing "remarkable fiction."
That salvo came from David S. Broder, the 70-year-old dean of Washington political columnists who's worked for the Post since 1966. Broder took aim at his "friend" Dana Milbank, the Post's 41-year-old Washington Sketch columnist who has a long background of covering politics, and Post staffer Jason Horowitz, whose relationship with Broder Broder doesn't characterize. Basically, Broder accuses them both of being naive and being used by their sources (and, in Milbank's case, of having a swelled head).
As a journalist, Horowitz gets the worst of it, for a story the Post stripped across the top of Page 1 on Tuesday. Broder calls it a "purported news story." Hard to imagine them palling around after that.
The problem, Broder says, is that both a column Milbank wrote on Feb. 21, and Horowitz's story read as if they were preludes to someone getting fired. Except Emanuel can't fire the president.
Fellow journalists in Washington have posited that the White House chief of staff is behind the coverage -- though for what purpose is unclear. The White House defends Emanuel, as McClatchy's Margaret Talev noted in this Planet Washington post.
Broder offers a slightly different explanation of the sourcing in his column. Citing White House officials, he says the stories are the result of Emanuel's old friends in Congress reflecting Emanuel's frustrations that Obama hasn't been able to push his agenda through as he would have liked.
That's doubly damning to the reporting, of course: None of those sources are likely to have been anywhere near an Obama-Emanuel conversation, so they are merely passing on what one of the supposed participants might have said. (It doesn't help much that one of the named sources in the Horowitz story is South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, one of John McCain's wingmen during the 2008 campaign who's show of bipartisanship during Obama's tenure consists of a grudging vote for Sonia Sotomayor and a consistent campaign to win Democratic support for legislation to block Obama on war on terror detainee policy.)
Broder says none of this would matter, if it didn't suggest that members of the president's own party are undermining the president's agenda. He knocks Milbank for suggesting the president needs to adopt a more bellicose tone. "From too many years of covering politics, I have come to believe as Axiom One that the absolute worst advice politicians ever receive comes from journalists who fancy themselves great campaign strategists," he writes.
For an even more virulent takedown of the Post coverage, here's a Dan Froomkin view from Huffington Post, where he coined the Rahm as saboteur line.