A few months ago, Politico, a Washington-area free newsletter specializing in trade journalism for lobbyists, announced that it had hired Foreign Policy editor Susan Glasser to “add magazine-style journalism,” including actual “glossy editions of this new POLITICO magazine.” This seemed, at the time, like a pointed break with Politico’s past, indeed its very founding ethos, which involved an explicit rejection of “magazine-style journalism,” which is to say, long, deeply reported articles that take a great deal of time to produce and which, for that reason, cannot possibly be connected to the current “news cycle,” a phrase that means “whatever Chuck Todd and Joe Scarborough are talking about today.”
Back when Politico was still a bit newer, its publisher and owner Robert Allbritton explicitly rejected both the value of and motivations behind investigative journalism: “I think we have to acknowledge that the money is spent for reputational benefits,” he said. “Reputational benefits” means “awards.” In the ensuing years, though, Allbritton and John Harris and Jim VandeHei have found, to their probable surprise, that media organizations that did invest in that reputational crap sometimes ended up “winning the morning.” Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece on Gen. McChrystal was all anyone in Washington could talk about, and Politico never would’ve commissioned such a thing. The Washington Post added some color to the 2012 election with Jason Horowitz’s illuminating portrait of young Mitt Romney, anti-gay bully. All of elite Washington spent a month pretending to have read Steven Brill’s lengthy, wonky report on healthcare costs in Time magazine earlier this year.
And so, Politico decided it needed a magazine, too. And now it has one.
It’s magaziney. The articles are long. They have long profiles and special features. There was a sort of special section called “The Great American Boom” — a perfect magazine concept, vague enough to encompass anything but it sounds very Aspen Ideas. It featured a bunch of predictable “top thinkers” like Al Gore and Jeb Bush giving tiny blurbs about how climate and natural gas extraction are real “game-changers,” and a Tyler Cowen thing about how robots will replace us all, and a thing about how great and game-changing natural gas extraction is, and, because you are not allowed to have a fake Ideas Issue without him, here’s Richard Florida on cities. You got the Atlantic in my Politico!
The magazine got some “buzz” for this first-person pseudo-mea culpa by Jack Hunter, aka “the Southern Avenger,” aka Rand Paul’s white supremacist aide. In his piece, Hunter denies actually being a white supremacist, back when he clad himself in a Confederate flag and espoused white supremacist rhetoric, but he acknowledges that doing those things is probably bad, and probably something the GOP should not associate itself with.
But the profiles and oral histories and magaziney pieces are packaged, online, where nearly everyone will actually see this “magazine,” with a lot of disposable bloviating by very overexposed and not particularly insightful Washington media and political lifers. A lot of Politico Magazine so far seems indistinguishable from some of the more forgettable fare in regular Politico, except with prettier Web design and bigger illustrations. Rich Lowry’s regular opinion column now seems to be running under the “magazine” rubric, for some reason, despite his having his own magazine already. There is not a comparable regular liberal columnist, as far as I can tell.
In fact, the entire Politico Magazine opinion section is pretty hilarious: It’s like a quarter Lowry. Plus a Joe Lieberman/Fran Townsend collaboration on the importance of being as belligerent as possible toward Iran. There also appears to be some sort of difference between “Opinion” and a different section called “Soapbox,” which is where you find archaic culture warrior Gary Bauer opining on “When Presidents Lie.” There’s also a different section, called “Members Only,” where I guess members of Congress can place their staff-written Op-Eds, because there certainly aren’t enough places for that to happen in Washington already.
On Nov. 15 Politico Magazine ran pieces by both Rahm and Ezekiel Emanuel. Here’s Gorver Norquist and some other Americans for Tax Reform guy on how Republicans can win by cutting taxes. Here’s Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on how Republicans can win by … focusing on “substance” and also Republican governors rule.
The one Politico Magazine piece that shows how completely redundant and uninspired this entire endeavor is is easily this piece by Doug Schoen and Patrick Caddell, which is about how polls show that Americans are mad and don’t like Congress or other institutions anymore. Yes, a Schoen and Caddell Op-Ed, a sure sign that a publication has no respect for its audience. Schoen and Caddell, two has-been former Democrats, specialize in dispensing idiotic and disingenuous advice and parroting the Republican line as concern-trolling “Democrats,” and always being wrong. They’re not only useless, they’re ubiquitous. They’re on Fox, they’re in the Wall Street Journal, they’re in the Washington Post. They crank this stuff out in their sleep.
Did the world need yet another venue for tossed-off columns by Beltway media zombies like Schoen and Caddell? Can the people at Politico simply not conceive of a publication that only tries to run smart, well-written stories, without lazy bullshit by tired hacks and ghost-written pablum by politicians’ staffs and a strangely large amount of right-wing opinion? Who exactly was begging for yet another place to read Caddell and Schoen and Lowry and Florida and Cowen and Joe Lieberman? I don’t know. But they got their wish.