Discussing a disputed version of a comment Sen. Barack Obama reportedly made during a closed-door meeting with House Democrats, The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman contradicted colleague Dana Milbank's assertion that both Weisman and Milbank “believe the quote was correct as written, and that this supposed 'context' is a recreation, after-the-fact, by Democratic aides who were worried about how the quote looked.” Weisman called his own position “a little more squishy” than Milbank's.
In an August 8 “Post Politics Hour” online chat, while discussing a disputed version of a comment Sen. Barack Obama reportedly made during a closed-door meeting with House Democrats on July 29, Washington Post national political reporter Jonathan Weisman contradicted colleague Dana Milbank's assertion in an August 7 online chat that "[m]y colleague Jonathan Weisman and I believe the quote was correct as written, and that this supposed 'context' is a recreation, after-the-fact, by Democratic aides who were worried about how the quote looked." According to Weisman's August 8 remarks, contrary to Milbank's assertion about what Weisman “believe[s],” Weisman has not reached a conclusion either about whether “the quote was correct as written” or about whether a different version of Obama's comments, which Weisman also reported, “is a recreation, after-the-fact, by Democratic aides who were worried about how the quote looked.” Calling his own position “a little more squishy” than Milbank's, Weisman said, “I can't say whether the first rendition [of the quote] was more accurate than the second.”
In his July 30 Washington Post column, Milbank wrote: “Inside, according to a witness, [Obama] told the House members, 'This is the moment ... that the world is waiting for,' adding: 'I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.' ” Milbank suggested the quote showed Obama's “hubris.” He did not cite a source for the quote. In a July 29 entry on the Post's The Trail blog, Weisman reported a similar version of the comment, writing that, “according to a witness,” the reported remark “suggest[ed]” that Obama “was beginning to believe his own hype.” But Weisman later posted an update to his July 29 blog post saying that “House leadership aides pushed back against interpretations of this comment as self-aggrandizing,” and reported: "[O]ne leadership aide said the full quote put it into a different context. According to that aide, Obama said, 'It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign -- that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol.' " During his August 8 chat, Weisman wrote, “We ran them [the quotes] exactly how they were e-mailed to me.”
Milbank asserted as fact in a July 31 chat that “House Democratic aides got up Thursday morning and decided that the quotes looked bad.” And in his August 7 online discussion, Milbank asserted: “Hopefully we needn't go through all of this again, but to make sure everybody's clear: My colleague Jonathan Weisman and I believe the quote was correct as written, and that this supposed 'context' is a recreation, after-the-fact, by Democratic aides who were worried about how the quote looked. Perhaps Obama didn't mean for it to come out that way, but there's every reason to believe it did.”
However, when asked about Milbank's August 7 comments in his August 8 online chat, Weisman wrote, “I'm happy to see Dana taking a firm stand. I'm a little more squishy” :
New York: Yesterday, in here, Dana Milbank claimed that both he and you believe your controversial quoting of Obama from the House Caucus fully reflected the context in which the statement was made, and that claims otherwise by aides and Congressmen in attendance are in fact lies. Does Milbank in fact speak for you on this?
Jonathan Weisman: I was waiting for this question. I'm happy to see Dana taking a firm stand. I'm a little more squishy. Here's what I can say. The source of the quotes is an unimpeachable voice of House Democrats and a strong Obama supporter. We did not cherry pick quotes. We ran them exactly how they were e-mailed to me. And the “context” that was provided was provided the next morning, after House Democratic aides met to compare notes. I can't say whether the first rendition was more accurate than the second. I can say those providing the second rendition had good reason to supply context that would nullify the first. I can also say I trust the suppliers of both renditions.
Without a tape or transcript, we will never know which was accurate. But I will tell all those who accused of us [sic] willfully cherry-picking quotes or taking them out of context, you are flat dead wrong.
In none of their reporting or subsequent discussion about Obama's reported comment did either Milbank or Weisman note that if the Democratic aides' version of Obama's quote is accurate, that comment would be entirely consistent with Obama's assertion numerous other times that the enthusiasm he generates “is not about” him, as Media Matters for America has noted.