(Updated below – Update II – Update III – Update IV)
The new online political magazine, The Politico, is a pernicious new presence in our media landscape. As I noted the other day, it really is nothing more than the Drudge Report dressed up with the trappings of mainstream media credibility. Today, Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News writes on his blog about what is merely the latest episode (of many) proving how closely coordinated The Politico is with The Drudge Report. It is not hyperbole to say that the former is all but an arm of the latter.
Last night, The Politico‘s Mike Allen published a petty, trite hit piece on Barack Obama — entitled Rookie Mistakes Plague Obama – claiming that Obama “has also shown a tendency toward seemingly minor contradictions and rhetorical slips” and referencing “imprecise or incomplete statements by Obama over the years.” As Bunch noticed, Allen’s story was “highlighted on the Drudge Report no later than 18 minutes after it was filed by Allen (how does he do it!).” Drudge continues prominently to promote The Politico‘s story today:
As I noted earlier this week, The Politico has instantaneously become one of the most-linked sites (I would guess the single most-linked) on The Drudge Report. Drudge links produce a volume of traffic unlike any other. Central to the business and political plan of The Politico is, quite transparently, overt courting of Matt Drudge and active cooperation with him.
When we last saw Mike Allen, he was falling all over himself in praise of Drudge on Drudge’s radio show. Immediately thereafter, Allen published a story with Drudge-like inaccuracy claiming that “it is now a virtual certainty that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty . . . will also resign shortly” and that Gonzales’ resignation would either occur at the same time or a day before — a story which The Politico changed the following day (once Bush made clear that Gonzales would not resign) to conceal Allen’s inaccuracies without indicating in any way that the story had been changed.
Allen, who was Time‘s White House correspondent before joining The Politico, has a relationship with the White House and with George Bush so affable that the President actually went out of his way at a recent Press Conference deliberately to plug The Politico while exchanging in giggly chatter with Allen. While at Time, Allen was typically in the forefront of the most predictable, petty and baseless Beltway smears. As but one amazing example, The Politico this week published an article — precisely echoing Matt Drudge’s headlined theme that the House was in “disarray” — proclaiming in the first sentence that “Nancy Pelosi’s honeymoon is over.”
That is an almost verbatim copy of the theme Allen was pushing months ago at Time, merely a few days after the midterm election, before Pelosi was even inaugurated as Speaker:
The Honeymoon is Over
After five days of giddiness, Democrats express dismay that their new House leader has thrown herself into the fight to become her Number 2, creating a potentially lose-lose situation where she could either be defeated in her first public contest since the election, or brand herself as a dove.
Given the last two weeks filled with humiliating errors and journalistically reckless behavior, The Politico, as Bunch notes, is the last newspaper which ought to be accusing others of “Rookie Mistakes.” They are the very embodiment of such behavior (although their journalistic recklessness seems more calculated than negligent — a feature rather than a bug, to invoke a cliche). And this latest article, designed to begin smearing Obama’s integrity and character, is nothing more than the standard RNC/Beltway-media joint tactic which we have seen so many times before. As Allen himself notes:
The Republican National Committee, working in league with Bush operatives, exploited similar blunders — sometimes misleadingly — to portray the last two Democratic presidential nominees, Al Gore and John F. Kerry, as inconsistent or hypocritical in ways that savaged both men’s reputations.
So the RNC successfully manipulated the press in two consecutive national elections to disseminate misleading depictions of the flawed characters of Al Gore and John Kerry, by exploiting petty and inconsequential incidents (often using inaccurate accounts) in order to generalize them into broad-based character indictments. And what is the lesson Allen has learned from that? To be first out of the gate to do the same thing to Barack Obama.
Already, look what is happening. The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen, one of the most predictable and easily manipulated “liberal” pundits in the country, has already dutifully scampered for the bait, pronouncing today: “This tendency to manipulate facts may bear watching in Obama. (After all, we hardly know him.)” So Cohen, even while praising Obama, starts infecting the public discourse with the type of slippery, odorous innuendo about his character which lingers and can never really be disproven. With almost a full year before the first primary vote, Obama has already, in essence, claimed to have invented the Internet, to be the source of inspiration for Love Story, and to have been in Cambodia during Christmas.
It is inevitable that the Beltway elite are going to end up hating Obama for exactly the same reason they hated Howard Dean — because by all appearances (which, in my view, are still incomplete and uncertain), Obama is not one of them, does not want to be one of them, and is actually going to run his campaign by attacking the toxic, cynical, corrupt attributes which define how they operate. Here, for instance, is what Allen wrote about Obama’s response to the article:
Asked about imprecise or incomplete statements by Obama over the years, campaign press secretary Bill Burton said, “Outside the Beltway, Americans get that this campaign is about having the vision to transform our nation. Inside the Beltway, snarky cynicism has a way of overcoming the real choices at stake in this race.”
The one thing the media hates more than anything are people who gain popularity and power outside of their system, independent of their rules, and especially by opposing what they do and how they function. If that is really what Barack Obama is, this is, of course, but a tiny fraction of what will be hurled at him.
But whatever else is true, it is now inescapably clear that The Politico will be working hand-in-hand with Matt Drudge. That seems to be the very purpose of The Politico – quoting a blogger with whom I exchanged email on this topic earlier this week: “to put the full stamp of legitimacy on the Drudgification of politics.”
UPDATE: I say this with no intended hyperbole: there is no group driven more by mindless group-think and uncritical herd behavior than the Beltway media. Joe Klein chimes in today from the Middle East with a post entitled “Honeymoon over?” that echoes The Politico/Drudge anti-Obama theme:
Even over here in the middle east, you can feel the zeitgeist gently shifting–Obama ebbing, for the moment, at least in medialand. First, there was the Senator’s lightweight performance at the Las Vegas Health forum, recounted by the Magisterial Moderator Tumulty. Then there was the Ron Brownstein column that I linked to yesterday. And now, this from Mike Allen.
Klein then adds that none of this is fatal to Obama, and in fact, it “can actually be beneficial to Obama, if he takes the right message from it: time to start adding some policy meat to his candidacy.” Somehow, because Klein’s media friends are covering Obama’s candidacy in the pettiest and most substance-free way, that is supposed to prove that Obama needs “to start adding some policy meat to his candidacy.”
Obama’s vocal opposition to the rotted cynicism that plagues our political discourse and drives our dysfunctional Beltway system is substantive. It is arguably the most important issue we face. Yet the jaded Beltway media, precisely because it is drowning in the very cynicism that Obama is criticizing, will never see that issue as anything other than empty cosmetics.
This Klein post also underscores the point yesterday regarding how these pundits run around spewing assertions based on absolutely nothing (as James Wolcott notes, NBC News’ Brian Williams and Don Imus repeated the same theme as the Chris Matthews panel: namely, that somehow it is Democrats who bear the political risk from investigations into the U.S. attorneys scandal). What happens is that they all begin repeating the same thought, and they then mistake that group dynamic as “proof.”
If Richard Stengel, Gloria Borger and Chris Matthews are all saying that “Americans don’t want investigations,” then it must be true. That’s enough “evidence” to warrant repeating it. If Ron Brownstein and Mike Allen are all reporting on petty matters regarding Obama, that proves his campaign lacks substance. Beltway journalists only talk to each other and listen to each other. They constantly echo what they hear and then mistake that echoing process as evidence.
Klein is right about one thing: Obama is being increasingly attacked by the Beltway media. It may be that Karen Tumulty and Mike Allen think that Barack Obama is “lightweight,” but 10,000 people would never show up to hear from Allen or any Time pundit as they do for Barack Obama’s speeches. While Beltway mavens depict Obama as lacking in substance, Americans are finding themselves attracted to Obama with unparalleled intensity in large part because he points out so clearly that the real parties lacking in substance are those shaping and driving our political discussions.
UPDATE II: It is true that there is a bit of an over-generalizing component to the term “Beltway media.” There are good journalists in this country, including many who work inside the Beltway. The only reason we know about things like CIA black sites and NSA warrantless eavesdropping and domestic surveillance data bases and Walter Reed neglect is because good journalists (with the indispensible aid of whistleblowers) did their job, uncovered government wrongdoing, and then documented and reported it. Those all-too-rare examples of good reporting underscore how much our country needs real adversarial journalism.
Although there are plenty of reporters who mindlessly pass on government information and deserve all the criticisms they get, the bulk of criticisms aimed at the “Beltway media” are directed at the opinion-makers and pundits more so than the nuts-and-bolts investigative reporters. Along those lines, the distinction which Atrios draws here is an important one, and I agree with it entirely.
UPDATE III: Speaking of mindless media herd behavior, Greg Sargent expertly dissects a new AP article by Nedra Pickler which is headlined: “Is Obama all style and little substance?” The article begins:
The voices are growing louder asking the question: Is Barack Obama all style and little substance?
As Greg demonstrates, the only thing guilty of “little substance” is this new Obama media theme. It’s almost hard to believe how coordinated they all seem in unleashing their Mindless Theme of the Day. Before you can even notice their emergence, these concocted narratives so rapidly spread everywhere and just start pouring reflexively out of their mouths.
UPDATE IV: Media Matters has documented that the Drudge-Politico coordination on this Obama story is far more glaring than even Bunch noted. The Drudge Report actually promoted the Mike Allen story on Obama — with a “Developing” tag — before it was even posted on the Politico‘s own site. Other than active communication between Politico and Drudge over this story, what could possibly account for that? (Blue Texan argues, not unreasonably, that e-mailing stories to Drudge is a common and innocuous practice; nonetheless, I think — in light of all the other factors — that it bolsters the suspicions about the extent of Drudge-Politico cooperation).
The importance of this matter is self-evident. Politico is holding itself out as some sort of mainstream, objective news organization, and because it is filled with the most mainstream of mainstream journalists, it is treated as such. But its overlapping connections and clear coordination with (and dependence upon) a discredited cog in the right-wing noise machine such as Drudge obviously ought to generate serious questions about the credibility of what The Politico is “reporting.”
Prior to seeing the Media Matters post, I sent (earlier today) the following two emails to Mike Allen, asking him to respond to various questions in connection with a follow-up piece I want to write on this issue. He has yet to respond:
Mr. Allen – I’ve written several pieces for Salon about the Politico and its connection to the Drudge Report. Today, Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News noted that the story you wrote last night on Barack Obama was “highlighted on the Drudge Report no later than 18 minutes after it was filed by Allen.”
I would like to follow up on this in another piece for Salon, and along those lines, would like to know –
(1) Do you alert Drudge to your stories, or does anyone do so on behalf of the Politico?
(2) Has the Politico ever instructed any of its writers or other employees to cater story lines to Drudge or try to attract Drudge’s attention or approval?
(3) Do you know what percentage of The Politico’s overall traffic is accounted for by Drudge links?
(4) How long have you known Matt Drudge, and what would you say is the general nature of your relationship with him? Do you respect him as a journalist?
(5) The Politico has quickly become one of the most-linked, if not the single most-linked, publications for Drudge. Do you have any thoughts about what the reflects about The Politico and/or why that has occurred?
Any other thoughts would be appreciated and I will be happy to include the full text of whatever you write in any follow-up piece I do. Thanks.
Mr. Allen – I have one other question I meant to include:
On March 19, you posted an article about the possible resignations of Alberto Gonzales and William McNulty to the Politico site, which strongly suggested that both were imminent.
The following day, March 20, the White House disclosed that the President had called Gonazles and voiced strong support. Several paragraphs were then added to the top of your article, the day after it was first published, to reflect those events — and thereby change the tenor of the article to suggest that Gonzales was staying. There is, however, no indication that the article was edited long after it was first published.
Is it the policy of The Politico to substantially change articles without indicating what changes have been made?
Earlier this month, Politico‘s Editor in Chief (and former Washington Post National Political Editor) John Harris vowed:
Gang, when we started Politico, we said we’d try to be more transparent about how we do our work than is typically the case at the traditional news organizations where we used to work. Transparency should mean being less defensive about criticism, and/but also more candid in saying what we really think.
I guess we’ll find out how much they really mean that.