Recently, Dana Milbank wrote an article that passionately defends White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel against a torrent of criticism. Many commentators have argued that Emanuel has been an ineffective strategist for the White House and have openly called for President Obama to fire him.
When I first read the article, I immediately suspected that much of its content probably came directly from Emanuel or from people close to him. The article barely pretends to approach the subject of Emanuel's performance objectively, and it is laced with anecdotes and perspectives that only Emanuel or someone very close to him could have provided.
For example, the article reports that Obama has rejected Emanuel's advice on various strategies and followed the advice of Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and Robert Gibbs. Milbank portrays Obama as the victim of the latter's bad advice. Milbank, however, would not know the specific moments of conflict between Obama's senior advisers unless someone very close to the White House informed him.
An article in Politico makes a plausible case that Milbank merely transcribed Emanuel's views. Others have also speculated about Milbank's source. In particular, Cenk Uygur of the Huffington Post argues that "Dana Milbank transcribed an article written by Rahm Emanuel today in The Washington Post. Never has an article been more clearly written to support a political benefactor."
In response to the Politico story, Milbank has denied that he spoke to Emanuel for his article. But it is less clear, however, whether Milbank spoke to someone very close to Emanuel. Milbank simply says that Emanuel's "people were. . .disinclined to help me with this column, out of fear of just the reaction that would occur: people would suggest he spoon fed it to me." Even if Emanuel's people were "disinclined" to contribute, this does not mean that they ultimately refused to speak to Milbank. If Milbank did not speak to Emanuel or persons close to him, then his portrayal of conflict in the White House lacks credibility. If Milbank spoke to Emanuel or his people, then he should have disclosed this fact. Either way, the story has a cloud over it.
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