News & Politics

Dana Milbank Goes on Leave

Will that make official Washington happy?

Liberals won't have Dana Milbank to kick around as much after today. Ditto right-wingers. The White House will have to find another reporter to complain about. Even his editors at the Washington Post will have less reason to whine.

Milbank starts a book leave this week. One of the Post's most singular voices on politics will take a back seat during the coming political season. Milbank's Washington Sketch, which has become a destination read on page A2 of the Post, will appear once a week instead of three times a week.

His Sunday Zeitgeist Checklist column will be written by Michael Grunwald, who will be corresponding from Miami. Milbank's regular appearances on MSNBC will become occasional.

Milbank is taking about six months off to write a series of mini profiles of Washington archetypes for Doubleday. The book is scheduled for publication next fall.

"It will be a mock anthropology of Washington man," Milbank says. And woman. Given the anthropological spin, one possible title was Homo Politicus.

The subjects will be archetypal characters such as Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, and Bob Woodward, each of whom fits into "Washington tribal boundaries."

Milbank, 38, represents his own archetype. He graduated from Yale, where he was a member of the Skull and Bones secret society. Before coming to the Post in 2000 to cover the White House, he wrote for the Wall Street Journal and the New Republic. He covered the 2004 presidential campaign, when both candidates—George W. Bush and John Kerry—were fellow Yale Bonesmen.

Coming from the New Republic, Milbank was suspected of being a liberal by the Bush White House. He occasionally added a dose of attitude to his reports, which helped put him on the White House list of unfriendly reporters. White House aides lobbied Post editors to get Milbank off the beat.

After covering the 2004 campaign, Milbank left the White House beat to write political essays for the Post news sections. They first appeared under the heading Notebook or Journal until editors settled on Washington Sketch, which has occupied space on page A2 for 1½ years.

Milbank's essays—often on-site reporting from committee rooms or speeches or press conferences—are distinguished by his eye for the hypocritical comment and the absurd moment. Liberals and conservatives have found reason to assail Milbank's reports­—"sometimes on the same story," he says.

Milbank's columns have provided plenty of material for Post ombudsman Deborah Howell. She wrote last month:

"Dana Milbank's job in writing Washington Sketch is to walk a fine line between observation and opinion; the ombudsman deals with those who think he crossed it. He reports Washington events with attitude."

Milbank told Howell: "My job is to cut through the 'he said/she said' journalistic conventions and tell readers what's really going on by bringing the sights, sounds, and frequently noxious smells of the political scene to people who do not have the opportunity to witness it in person. It is by definition subjective, by design skeptical, but, in contrast to an op-ed column, observational rather than ideological."

The ideologues won't have as many chances to kick Milbank around for a while.