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On Awards, the Spineless Press, and Ann Coulter's Legs

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The Week Magazine handed out its annual Opinion Awards last night during a dinner at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington.

Nicholas Kristof was named Columnist of the Year. Mike Luckovich was Editorial Cartoonist of the Year. And Ed "Captain's Quarters" Morrissey was tapped as Blogger of the Year (beating out a group of nominees that included John Aravosis, Brendan Loy, Michelle Malkin, and me). Here is Morrissey's take from the winner's circle.

Following the dinner, I took part in a panel discussion with Mike McCurry, Tony Blankely, John Dickerson, and Michael Massing -- moderated by Harry Evans. The topic: "Covering the Presidency: Are White House Correspondents Real Journalists?"

I was tempted to shout out "Jeff Gannon, 'nuff said" and call it a night. But that would have meant missing the lively conversation that followed, so I'm glad I held back.

One of the most interesting moments of the night came when I unexpectedly found myself disagreeing with Massing, who has written brilliantly (in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere) about the press's woeful performance for much of the Bush administration.

Massing has documented the mainstream media's "meekness" in the run up to war, and I have regularly questioned the Beltway Gang's ongoing performance as star players on the Bush damage control team.

But here was the point of contention: Massing pinned the blame for the Washington press corps' spinelessness on a fear of being taken to task by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

I, on the other hand, argued that Washington reporters don't give a whit about Limbaugh and Coulter. What they care about -- deeply and passionately -- is what the people they might be sitting next to at dinner that night will think of them. Indeed, Beltway reporters are more affected by peer pressure than a junior high transfer student being offered a cigarette by the coolest girl in school. That's why they never want to stray too far from the Conventional Wisdom. Perish the thought.

Of course, the other reason for the press's timidity is that over the last decade reporters have lost sight of the fact that their mission is to uncover the truth -- not slip between the covers with the powers-that-be. Far too many on the Washington beat have traded their press pass for an all-access White House pass -- and, in doing so, have sacrificed their duty to the public for entry to the halls of power. The dishonor roll is long and star-studded, with Bob Woodward at the top. For the latest example of this overly cozy relationship between the media and those in power (even those whose power is all but drained), look no further than Chris Matthews' off-air banter with Tom DeLay. Instead of giving the fallen Hammer the ass-kicking he deserved, Matthews spun the Sugar Land sinner around and sucked for all he was worth: "I owe you one. I owe you two." Quid pro blow. Payback may be a bitch, but as long as you land the hot get, who cares, right, Chris?

In the midst of the back and forth between Massing and me, Tony Blankley jumped in, responding to my dismissal of the influence of Limbaugh and Coulter by suggesting that reporters would be better off if they started paying attention to what Rush Limbaugh is saying.

I pointed out that it was interesting that he stood up for Limbaugh but not for Coulter.

His telling retort was that Coulter has "great legs."

There you have it -- slap that baby on Coulter's professional tombstone. Sorry, Ann, but even Tony Blankley will no longer defend your opinions -- just your gams.

PS For Coulter's latest self-immolation, check out Al Franken's new post.

PPS In a post on last night's dinner, Powerline misquotes me. For the record, I never said that Bill Buckley believes the war in Iraq is "the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history." What I did say was that many Republicans, including Buckley, now believe that "our mission [in Iraq] has failed" and that the most important thing in determining what we do next is "the acknowledgement of defeat." Here's the link, guys. As for the "disaster" quote, it comes from retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, Pres. Reagan's former director of the NSA, who predicted that Iraq will turn out to be "the greatest strategic disaster in our history." So, no, I didn't make anything up.