As I've noted before, what got Washington Post national political editor John Harris really mad was when I said that it looked to me as though many of his Washington Post reporters spent a good deal of their time as simply stenographers for their sources--repeating the line the sources wanted without maintaining any critical distance.
Today Jane Hamsher comes up with a fine example of this. Here's Washington Post reporter "Steno" Sue Schmidt and Jim Grimaldi giving the Tom DeLay line of the day on today's page A1:
Sue Schmidt and Jim Grimaldi: DeLay, a Christian conservative, did not quite know what to make of Abramoff, who wore a beard and a yarmulke. They forged political ties, but the two men never became personally close, according to associates of both men.
And here is Michael Isikoff last April 18 giving the Jack Abramoff "if I'm going down, you're going down with me" line.
Michael Isikoff: "Everybody is lying," Abramoff told a former colleague. There are e-mails and records that will implicate others, he said. He was noticeably caustic about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. For years, nobody on Washington's K Street corridor was closer to DeLay than Abramoff. They were an unlikely duo. DeLay, a conservative Christian, and Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew, traveled the world together and golfed the finest courses. Abramoff raised hundreds of thousands for DeLay's political causes and hired DeLay's aides, or kicked them business, when they left his employ. But now DeLay, too, has problems--in part because of overseas trips allegedly paid for by Abramoff's clients. In response, DeLay and his aides have said repeatedly they were unaware of Abramoff's behind-the-scenes financing role. "Those S.O.B.s," Abramoff said last week about DeLay and his staffers, according to his luncheon companion. "DeLay knew everything. He knew all the details."
It is a Washington melodrama that has played out many times before. When political figures get into trouble and their worlds collapse, they look to save themselves by fingering others higher in the food chain. Will Abramoff attempt to bargain with federal prosecutors by offering up DeLay%u2014and does he really have the goods to do so? Abramoff has at times hinted he wanted to bargain%u2014possibly by naming members who sought campaign cash for legislative favors, says a source familiar with the probe. But Abramoff's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, says, "There have been no negotiations with the Justice Department." Lowell cryptically acknowledges that Abramoff has been "disappointed" and "hurt" by the public statements of some former friends, but insists his client is currently "not upset or angry with Tom DeLay." Still, if Abramoff's lunch-table claims are true, he could hand DeLay his worst troubles yet.
In light of episodes like this, I am dumbfounded by claims, like John Harris's, that the Washington Post's only asset is its credibility as an objective news reporter. No. The Post sold that asset long ago in exchange for "insider" access. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing I don't know--but I do know that it cannot be a good thing if the Post continues to pretend that it did not do it.