Boys' night out: "The Politico guys," Rove's top disciple and how our press corps works

The relationship between Politico's Jonathan Martin and Tim Griffin burgeons into a close and mutually beneficial friendship.

Published October 12, 2008 12:27PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Tim Griffin has long been one of Karl Rove's closest "protégés" and has been at the epicenter of many of the most significant episodes of Republican sleaze over the last decade -- in particular, he has been a vital tool in the naked politicization of our justice system.  Lately, Griffin's relationship with Politico and its McCain campaign reporter, Jonathan Martin, has grown in numerous ways, and the benefits for both are becoming increasingly apparent, in the standard tawdry ways that typify how our press corps functions. 

In the mid-1990s, Griffin worked with the Special Prosecutor investigating HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros's relationship with his mistress.  In 1999, he joined the Bush campaign to oversee "opposition research" and then became legal advisor to the "Bush-Cheney 2000 Florida Recount Team."  Griffin served again as director of opposition research for the Bush/Cheney 2004 re-election campaign, and -- as Greg Palast has exhaustively documented -- spearheaded efforts to prevent minorities and poor voters from voting in 2004, especially in Florida.  In 2005, Griffin became Karl Rove's top aide in the White House, and then found himself in the middle of the U.S. Attorney scandal when Rove engineered the forced resignation of Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, to be replaced by . . . Tim Griffin, who then oversaw all federal investigations and prosecutions for the entire state of Arkansas.  

Outrage from Arkansas' two Senators over Rove's hand-picking of such a blatant partisan operative to serve as U.S. Attorney -- and the abuse by Alberto Gonzales of a provision of the Patriot Act allowing interim appointments of U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation in order to plant Griffin in that position -- resulted in Griffin's forced resignation months later, just as John Conyers was investigating Griffin's role in the voter-suppression schemes.  Earlier this year, Griffin advised Fred Thompson's campaign and, after reports that he would oversee "research" for the McCain campaign, Griffin announced he was instead opening his own "public affairs" (i.e., lobbying) firm in Little Rock, Arkansas, and last month began writing his own political blog -- "The Griffin Room."  So that's Tim Griffin.

* * * * * * 

When Griffin began his blog last month, The Politico's Jonathan Martin announced its debut and linked to it.  Griffin, in turn, posted a thanks to Martin on his blog, along with a playful photograph of Martin eating a pork chop, and added this thought:  "JMart tells me he is a fan of Doe's. We hope to get him a porterhouse soon with 'celebrity' Mike Allen in tow. TG."

Griffin was then invited by Politico to participate in online panel discussions of the presidential campaign, where he contributes multiple posts opining on McCain and Obama (and Griffin then urges his blog readers to read Politico).  On his own blog, Griffin excitedly noted that he and Martin were on the same page with their thoughts about the first debate.

Earlier this month, Martin and Politico's Mike Allen were scheduled to appear at the Clinton School in Little Rock the night following the Vice Presidential debate, and Griffin generously twice promoted their appearance on his blog ("two of the best in the business" -- "Politico's top journalists"), noting that "Martin and Allen are both known to be fans of Little Rock and especially the steaks at Doe's."  Following the event, Griffin hosted Allen and Martin for a fun-filled boys' Friday night out in Little Rock, and afterwards described just some of the festivities in detail on his blog:

Recap of a Friday to Remember

As many of you know, Politico's Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin spoke at the Clinton School of Public Service Friday. After speaking to a packed house and being treated like royalty by the gracious Dean Skip Rutherford, Mike, Jonathan and I met up with KATV Channel 7's News Director Randy Dixon. Randy showed us all around the studio and shared several stories of his days covering the Clinton campaign in 1992. . . .

On the way out of KATV, they got a good glimpse of the Rose Law Firm. They were amused to learn that the Rose Law Firm has a pool in the basement.

Then, it was off to get some BBQ. Of course, I told Mike and Jonathan that BBQ meant one place: Whole Hog. Nothing like it. I ate a little much--a whole rack of ribs. I went with the number 3 sauce (a little spicy), stripped some meat from the ribs and put it on an bun that I purchased extra, and, of course, a big forkful of cole slaw on the bun. Now that's what pulled pork should always be--rib meat pulled off the bone and put on a bun. Mike and Jonathan went with ribs as well. Mike thought a half rack was enough. It wasn't, so he went back for another.

After eating way too much, we made our way through the Heights, by the Governor's Mansion, by Central High and past the Old State House for a view of one of the best examples of Greek Revival architecture in America.

I told Mike and Jonathan that as high school football fans, they would love Friday night Drivetime Sports with Randy Rainwater because it is focused on high school football. They did. They enjoyed hearing the analysis of football in Junction City, Bearden, Searcy, etc. It made them want a Sonic Blast.

Did I mention that we ate a lot while they were here? As we headed downtown near the Capitol, I drove them up 3rd Street en route to Doe's for a couple more examples of local Greek Revival architecture. They were fascinated to learn that the area around Doe's was a hot place to live shortly after the Civil War.

We were due at Doe's at 6 and made it. We were joined by Dean Skip Rutherford and family as well as David Sanders. We ate lots of tamales, salad and porterhouse steaks, medium rare. There was no room for dessert.

Mike and Jonathan, come back and see us anytime. I should be rested by then and ready to eat.


A few days later, Martin wrote a widely-cited post at Politico vigorously -- even angrily -- defending John McCain from accusations that the McCain/Palin campaign has been exploiting racist resentment.  Sounding like Rush Limbaugh (or Karl Rove), Martin railed against what he called the "outrage industry, ever on the lookout for any sign of racism and quick to pounce even when it's not there," and repeatedly lamented on McCain's behalf that he's in "in a no-win position."  [Martin was among those who attended the cozy weekend at the McCain compound in Sedona in March and caused Megan McCain so memorably to gush:  "It was really fun to kind of see big journalist figures like Holly Bailey swinging on the tire swing, and Jon Martin helping my dad grill ribs . . . The guys from the Politico brought [my mom, Cindy] flowers which I still think is the most adorable thing ever, so thank you, I thought it was like so cute that they decided to bring my mom flowers . . . "].

Yesterday, Griffin -- unintentionally displaying the oozing politicization of our federal justice system which he helped to implement -- wrote a post recommending that John McCain, at the next debate, call for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to criminally investigate the financial crisis, to include a focus on every GOP bogeyman:  Democratic Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad, "the role of former Fannie Mae chief Franklin Raines in the collapse of Fannie Mae," and ACORN:  "The Special Prosecutor could work together with the federal prosecutor prosecuting ACORN under the RICO law as a criminal enterprise if that in fact occurs as some have suggested."  

With no hint of irony at all, Karl Rove's top hatchet man actually wrote this:

If McCain were to make such a proposal, it would demonstrate that he is a man of action, not just words.

It would demonstrate that he understands someone must be held accountable for the mortgage meltdown if criminal laws were broken. (I understand that greed in and of itself is not criminal.)

It would demonstrate that we are a nation of laws, even for the wealthy and well connected.

And ask Sen. Obama to join him in this proposal. He won't. . . . A Special Prosecutor. For action. For accountability. For confidence.

Pardon me, but I just have to repeat that.  From Karl Rove's top disciple, former key White House aide, the man at the center of some of the tawdriest abuses of our justice system over the last decade, including the U.S. attorney scandal:  "It would demonstrate that we are a nation of laws, even for the wealthy and well connected."

A mere five hours after Griffin posted that, Martin went to Politico and dutifully trumpeted Griffin's call for a Special Prosecutor as though it were some serious and newsworthy event:  "Griffin urges McCain to call for special prosecutor."  Martin described Griffin's proposal without a word of critical comment -- "Griffin contends McCain could appeal to both the GOP base and swing voters, both of whom are taking major hits in the market right now" -- and then proceeded to quote large parts of Griffin's post.  Three hours later, Griffin proudly noted:  "Politico's Jonathan Martin Picks Up Post on Special Prosecutor." 

Martin and Griffin seem to be really good friends, and that's nice.  Spending your nights socializing with the most vicious GOP operatives or your weekends cooking with John McCain and giving flowers to his wife won't have any impact at all on your ability to cover what they're doing or investigating and skeptically scrutinizing their claims.

* * * * * *

Yesterday, Digby wrote about the ongoing reverence for Karl Rove from our political and media establishment and, quoting a great new piece by Matt Taibbi on that topic, noted that Rove's popularity among the media is not in spite of his flagrant contempt for law, ethics and rules, but due precisely to it:

Because this generation of Americans has become so steeped in greed and social Darwinism that it can no longer distinguish between cheating and achieving, between enterprise and crime, and can't bring itself to criticize winners any more than it knows how to be nice to losers. 

That echoes what NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen observed last year about the media's ongoing reverence for Rove himself and his band of disciples -- that the modern journalist, above all else, reveres and desperately wants to be close to the "unprincipled winner": those who engage in bad acts, ones which everyone knows are bad, and -- most importantly of all -- gets away with it through flagrant indifference to law and rules:

Savviness! Deep down, that’s what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in— their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including operators like Karl Rove.) In politics, they believe, it’s better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere or humane.

Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.. . . What is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Everyone knows that the press admires an unprincipled winner.

It's hard to overstate the extent to which "journalists" -- and especially those who, like Martin, cover campaigns -- identify with, socialize with, and revere the very operatives whose purpose is to manipulate and deceive them.  It's hardly possible to go any lower or get any sleazier than Tim Griffin -- or Karl Rove.  But not in the eyes of our intrepid journalists.  Being close to them, spending the night shoving your face full of ribs while being feted by them, is as good as it gets --- even better than doing that with John McCain on his ranch.  Unsurprisingly, the great speech by McClatchy's John Walcott contains exactly the description of this sickness:

Why, in a nutshell, was our reporting different [in the run-up to the attack on Iraq] from so much other reporting? One important reason was that we sought out the dissidents, and we listened to them, instead of serving as stenographers to high-ranking officials and Iraqi exiles. I'm afraid that much the same thing may have happened on Wall Street. Power and money and celebrity, in other words, can blind you. Somehow, the idea has taken hold in Washington journalism that the value of a source is directly proportional to his or her rank, when in my experience the relationship is more often inverse.

That brings up a larger point, and one that I think is another part of what went wrong back in 2002, and what may have gone wrong on Wall Street. Instead of being members of the Fourth Estate, too many Washington reporters have been itching to move up an estate or two, to become part of the Establishment or share in the good times.

But it's no fun spending Friday night in Little Rock with some low-level nobody dissident.  Tim Griffin sits at the right hand of Karl Rove and has been a key figure in countless dirty GOP scandals over the last decade, and that makes Jonathan Martin feel really special to be close to that, praised by it, friendly with it.

UPDATE:  Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong today cites a mindlessly subservient article regarding McCain's new economic proposals jointly regurgitated by the aforementioned Martin and Allen and writes:  "the media death spiral watch continues, led by the Politico" (h/t Atrios).

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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