Reporter Dana Milbank sounds uneasy about being interviewed.
"You'd been a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal for almost eight years. Why did you decide to leave?"
"No comment," Milbank says dryly.
Dry humor should suit Milbank well in his new job as the attitudinal New Republic 's senior editor specializing in national politics. But seriously, why did Milbank, 30, leave the venerable Journal?
"I had a nagging sense I should try something else," he says. The more tangible reason? It was a shot at writing for the magazine he wanted to work for when he graduated from Yale back in 1990.
"I had always loved the New Republic. In college it was our second bible. We paid more attention to it than our course work," he jokes.
So at the end of March, Milbank packed up his office in Boston and headed for the Beltway.
New Republic Editor Charles Lane , 36, is pleased with his second major hire since taking the helm of the 84-year-old magazine in September. "I felt very flattered that Dana came to us," he says. "We didn't have to sell him."
Eventually, Lane expects Milbank to revive TNR's "White House Watch" column. "He's been in Boston for awhile," Lane says. "He has to get his feet wet in Washington first." Once reinstated, the column is likely to run regularly and will be more analytical than reportorial, Lane says. "We will never have the time and resources to match the New York Times and Washington Post scoop for scoop," Lane says. "But we can do things that aren't in the daily rush of reporting."
It's been about two years since Matthew Cooper left TNR for Newsweek , and since then the White House beat has been divvied up among staffers. While Lane thinks the weekly has been up to par on the Lewinsky scandal, he says it may have been missing "everything else at the White House."
Having no one on the beat, for example, was a handicap when Iraq flared up again. The bottom line, Lane adds, is TNR needs to cover the White House regularly. He says Milbank will handle "the big political stuff and the steady flow of reporting about Washington." Yes, that means the White House brouhaha. While Milbank says he's "not much of a dirt digger," writing about scandals in the Oval Office is "unavoidable."
And what about the New Republic's own soap operas, like last year's ouster of Editor Michael Kelly ?