The Politico's "Chief Political Correspondent" Mike Allen (until recently Time's White House Correspondent") has a characteristically hard-hitting, insightful new article on Rove protegee Dan Bartlett and his departure from the White House. The 1,150-word article relies upon an impressive constellation of four different sources -- Bartlett, Bartlett's lawyer, Bartlett friend and former Bush aide Michael Gerson, and George W. Bush. The headline -- "Bush's 'truth-teller' leaving president's side" -- may actually be the least obsequious aspect of the article.
Even someone hired to serve as Bartlett's publicist would be embarrassed to churn out something this adoring and one-sided. But not Mike Allen, who very well may be the single most obedient, right-wing-power-worshipping reporter in Washington, a distinction for which there is a crowded and heated competition.
This is what we learn from Allen's article this morning: Bartlett was "an uncomfortable truth-teller in the system" who was "willing to tell the president hard truths" (Gerson). Bartlett was one who "could take the heat that sometimes resulted from the boss's decisions," and he "made an 'immeasurable' contribution and [the President] and first lady Laura Bush will miss him" (Bush). He was "a voice for calm, balance, reasoned discourse" and he is seen "not just having good press judgment, but good judgment, period" (Gerson).
"The trigger [for Bartlett's leaving] was 'a third child, and a realization that [his] commitment to [his] family, after 13 years of commitment to the Bush family, now has to come first" (Bartlett). But Bartlett's departure has not created any tensions, because "Bush, 'more than anyone,' understands the constraints White House service puts on a family," and "there's an incredibly experienced and gifted staff around this president, and a clear path forward for this administration and this president to accomplish more things on behalf of the American people" (Bartlett).
The reason Bartlett and the president were so close is that "they share a Texas view of life," which includes their mutual "casual manner and a manly humor" (Gerson). But now, Bartlett's wife, who "has enjoyed their White House years . . . is ready for a little more Dan at home" (Allen).
Allen tell us that "many people over the years have speculated that Bartlett will run for governor of Texas" and that he has had to hire a lawyer to "sift through job offers." The world is his oyster, because "he has the respect of the media, the Congress, the political world and the business community. That's a rare confluence for people coming out of White Houses" (Bartlett's lawyer).
Imagine calling yourself a journalist and producing tripe like this on a regular basis. It's more of a tongue-wagging hagiography than a standard Pravda item announcing the retirement of a long-term Politburo official. But that is what Allen does. He has numerous close associates in the Bush circle, and his "reporting" consists almost exclusively of running to them, writing down what they say, and then printing it uncritically.
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Here is but one example of how this works. Last month, actual journalist Murray Waas obtained a secret internal DOJ document in which extraordinary hiring and firing authority was delegated by Alberto Gonzales to two young and inexperienced Gonzales aides -- Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling.
As TPM Muckraker's Paul Kiel noted at the time, that story provided "further convincing that Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling -- the two young Justice Department aides who have resigned due to their roles in the U.S. attorney firings -- were major players at the Department." Pat Leahy -- who, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, was unaware of the memo -- described the revelation as both "troubling" and "disturbing."
But the following morning, Allen wrote about the story, first belittling it by calling it "a late-afternoon/early evening frenzy  stirred up" by Waas, and said that Senate Democrats see it as "a new chance to poke the attorney general." Allen's sole contribution to the story, as usual: relaying "what the administration told [the Politico] about the development."
Allen then copied a long anonymous quote from the White House which asserted that there was nothing secret about the order because "it was published in the Federal Register," and blamed the story on "Chairman Leahy's creative imagination and thirst for perceived scandal." Allen proceeded to pass on a variety of other statements from the White House -- all anonymous -- claiming that there was nothing unusual at all about this delegation of hiring powers.
Were the White House's claims about this revelation true or false? One would have no idea reading Allen's piece. Investigation and reporting on whether the White House's statements are true is not his role. That's what a journalist does. Allen's role is to shape stories in accordance with the version of his White House sources and dutifully to pass along those claims with no effort whatsoever to determine if they are true.
In fact, the White House's principal response to Waas' story, copied so efficiently by Allen, appears to be factually false, as the order unearthed by Waas does not seem to have been published in the Federal Register at all. Indeed, the memo itself prominently bears the designation: "Internal Order -- Not Published in F.R." And the only seemingly relevant Federal Register entry does not remotely constitute publication of that delegation order. Did Allen even look at the memo or the Federal Register to see if the White House claims which he mindlessly repeated were true? It's hard to believe he did.
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Both of these stories vividly illustrate the role Allen eagerly performs in our Beltway system. He is a mindless disseminator of government statements, at least insofar as the government is in the hands of right-wing operatives. And it undoubtedly was Allen's love affair with right-wing Beltway sources which generated one of the most politically tone-deaf and misguided articles of all of 2006: his October piece in Time -- entitled "Campaign 2006: The Republicans' Secret Weapon" -- all but predicting a GOP victory engineered by "uberstrategist Karl Rove":
The polls keep suggesting that Republicans could be in for a historic drubbing. . . . But top Republican officials maintain an eerie, Zen-like calm. They insist that the prospects for their congressional candidates in November's midterms have never been as bad as advertised and are getting better by the day. Those are party operatives and political savants whose job it is to anticipate trouble. But much of the time they seem so placid, you wonder whether they know something.
They do. What they know is that just six days after George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, his political machine launched a sophisticated, expensive and largely unnoticed campaign aimed at maintaining G.O.P. majorities in the House and Senate. . . . The Republicans are, after all, in the enviable position of being able to lose a lot. As long as they end up keeping control of both houses, they still come out the winner on Election Day.
That was preceded by an equally prescient Allen article back in August -- entitled "Why the Republicans are Loving the Lieberman Loss" -- which argued, following along with the standard GOP talking points, that the primary loss of Joe Lieberman would spell doom for Democrats: "the Democrats' rejection of a sensible, moralistic centrist has handed the GOP a weapon that could have vast ramifications for both the midterm elections of '06 and the big dance of '08."
To Allen, every story, every scandal, helps Bush and the Republicans, because that is what his Rovian friends tell him. In January 2006 -- a mere month after the NSA scandal first began -- Allen wrote a Time article (headlined "Losing his Script and Finding his Voice") claiming that the revelations of Bush's lawbreaking would be politically beneficial for Bush, as it will "turn out to offer a foothold" for Bush to recover from his declining approval ratings.
Just as Mark Halperin conclusively unmasked himself with his now-iconic appearance on the Hugh Hewitt Show, where he literally begged Hewitt to recognize that Halperin agrees with almost everything Hewitt said, Allen had a similarly revealing appearance with the Politico's principal benefactor, Matt Drudge, back in March.
When Drudge began mocking the subpoenas served on administration officials by the Congress, Allen remarked: "Democrats are like a dog that bites someone, right? They taste blood and they won't stop." Then, literally out of the blue, after Drudge asked him about a completely unrelated topic, Allen had a voluntary outburst of intense homage paid to both Drudge and Fox News, so worshipful that it was actually cringe-inducing to hear:
Matt, congratulations on -- as you are day after day, year after year -- being ahead of the curve, on the Al Gore story. . . .
Fox -- aside from being a great journalistic story -- and I think that their insight about looking at stories differently than other people do -- basically looking though the other end of the telescope -- is complete genius.
Drudge had been mocking Al Gore that week as Gore prepared to testify before Congress on global warming. Allen assured Drudge that the real purpose of this testimony was to launch Gore's presidential bid, and lauded Drudge for his derision of Gore's global warming activism, telling Drudge that there "might be a Gore eclipse" that week. Allen then proceeded to spew the standard anti-Gore cliches which virtually all Beltway reporters spout as a matter of course (exactly as Allen did days earlier when he joined with Glenn Beck in standard anti-Gore mockery):
People may like the idea of Al Gore better than Al Gore. Is it possible that it's not a coincidence that he's so popular now that people have not really been seeing or listening to him -- and is it possible that he will come across as grim and dogmatic and preachy?
Al Gore has been all over the media this year, and his book just debuted as #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.
At the end of the clip, Drudge wanted to tell Allen about an item on the Drudge Report and said: "I don't know if you have been to the Drudge Report tonight," and Allen interrupted immediately to say: "Are you kidding? Are you kidding?" and tried to assure Drudge of how frequently he visits. But, by that point, even Drudge was annoyed at Allen's oozingly eager attempts to please, and sternly cut him off.
These are the people we are supposed to think are our objective political journalists. Worse still, even as the most influential establishment journalists like Halperin (of ABC News and Time) and Allen run around lavishing the most embarrassing praise on the likes of Hugh Hewitt and Matt Drudge, and churn out articles which can only be described as White House press releases, the myth of the "liberal media" persists in most circles. Halperin and Allen themselves embrace that myth (hence Allen's statement to Drudge that Fox, as compared to the rest of the media, looks "through the other end of the telescope," and Halperin, of course, repeatedly assured Hewitt that he recognizes, and is deeply sorry for, the towering bias of the liberal media).
One can ask seriously how Allen's articles cited here would be any different, at all, if they were written (overtly) by Karl Rove. With political journalists like Allen and newspapers like The Politico, who needs Tony Snow?
UPDATE: One point worth adding: Dan Bartlett's entire career has been shaped by his close association with one of the most controversial political operatives in the country's history. He has spent the last six years loyally serving one of the most unpopular presidents in the country's history, a president whom most Americans believe deliberately deceived the country into war. And Bartlett himself has been at the center of all sorts of controversies and been accused of all kinds of dishonest conduct -- from his shifting defenses of the Iraq war to his role in the story of the President's National Guard service.
The notion that he is some kind of universally respected figure who merits obituary-like, criticism-free homage upon leaving is just absurd. But Allen and his circle of Beltway journalists do love and admire Bartlett, just as Halperin and David Broder previously acknoweldged their great respect for his boss, Karl Rove. And Bartlett, along with Rove, are almost certainly key sources for Allen's GOP-bolstering "reporting." Thus, to Allen, Bartlett -- like most White House officials -- is a man of sterling honor and integrity and thus Allen's reporting reflects only that view.