Journalism as usual

Former Washington reporter Ethan Wallison has written an interesting RCP column on Nancy Pelosi: “The Nancy I knew.” Based on his own observations, Wallison’s column depicts Pelosi as conniving, ambitious, bullying, vain, vindictive and ethically challenged. It’s not a pretty picture.
I think that the traits observed by Wallison could probably be found upon close inspection on a bipartisan basis to one degree or another among those filling congressional leadership positions. Wallison does not expressly state that Pelosi is distinctive in these respects, although he does find her wanting by contrast with Dick Gephardt, and the tenor of his column suggests that she is in fact worse than her colleagues. Wallison observes: “Given her weaknesses, it’s fair to ask how it could be that she was chosen first as whip and then as leader and now as Speaker by her peers.”
What is most interesting to me about Wallison’s column is its disclosure in passing of how he was used by Pelosi when she wanted David Bonior to step out of her way:

In the next Congress Pelosi moved fast, and within months determined that she had the votes [to be elected Democratic whip]. But now she came upon an obstacle more difficult to finesse than the earlier grumbling. It was David Bonior, the incumbent whip and Pelosi’s leadership mentor. A victim of redistricting, Bonior had decided not to even bother seeking another term. But so far he had held onto his leadership position. Pelosi wasn’t inclined to wait, but she also did not want to offend Bonior by requesting that he step aside. Instead, her campaign engineered the publication of an article in Roll Call in which Members complained about lame-duck Bonior preventing a new generation of leadership from emerging as he wound down his career. (I wrote that article, finding out only later how it had been carefully planned and planted.) Bonior was out before the end of the first session.

This seems to me to represent journalism as usual in Washington, although the publicly expressed second thoughts such as Wallison’s are few and far between. In this column Wallison seems to be expressing buyer’s remorse. I wish Wallison would seize the occasion to reflect a little more deeply on his experience in another column on how journalists are used in Washington by confidential sources advancing their own agenda, which usually just happens to coincide with that of the journalists, and how as a result they occasionally or frequently or most of the time miss the bigger story.


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