Hack list No. 1: Mike Allen

Our annual list is here! This time, we channeled each hack's unique voice -- and let them "write" their own entries

Published December 19, 2013 7:45PM (EST)


Salon has been running its annual Hack List this week. Also check out "winners" 109876543 and 2.

PAYOLA-BOOK: No professional blowback for sponsor-fluffing Mike Allen -- LEIBO on ALLEN: 'enabler' -- Business lobby agenda pushed daily -- "Beyond parody" -- Something about JOE SCARBOROUGH for some reason

EXCLUSIVE -- "Mike Allen is the biggest hack in the country, by Alex Pareene: "Mike Allen, Politico's superstar email newsletter author, has never been anyone's idea of a hard-charging, truth-to-power journalist, but as he's built PLAYBOOK into an elite Washington institution, he's become effectively indistinguishable from a paid advocate for business interests. ... He promotes causes favored by wealthy corporate executives, promotes the nonprofits and PACs and interest groups those executives fund, and promotes the politicians who agree with the corporate agenda. And he does all of this each day in the guise of a simple emailed tipsheet of links to major political news stories.

… "For Allen, a source is indistinguishable from a friend and both are indistinguishable from sponsors. The result is a daily exercise in favor-trading carried out by people using him as a conduit and people using him as an unpaid spokesman."

TOP TALKER: "Politico's Mike Allen, Native Advertising Pioneer," by Erik Wemple: "Politico’s archives yield plenty of examples of Allen going to bat for the site’s advertisers. Turning up examples of hard-nosed pieces on these companies and special interests is a more complicated undertaking….As for outright negative stuff on these organizations, that tends to be harder to dig up. We spent hours searching for such examples and even deployed an outside researcher for further bandwidth; we also asked Politico to send examples wherein Allen takes a harsh view of their agenda. They declined."

"...So enticing is the prospect of dumping an announcement in the loving hands of Mike Allen that many PR types around town have gone around beat reporters at Politico in search of a little plug in 'Playbook' ... Notes one former staffer via e-mail: 'Reporters are sometimes annoyed to find scooplets from their beats at the top of Playbook. Sources give stuff to Mike Allen because they know he’ll reach a huge audience, usually more people than the beat reporters would reach with their own stories. And they know he’ll play it totally straight, not letting any dissenting voices muddy up whatever PR the source is trying to get out.'" http://goo.gl/V1f5nN

A QUOTE OF A HUGE PORTION OF ANOTHER OUTLET'S ARTICLE PASTED INTO AN EMAIL NEWSLETTER UNDER THE ASSUMPTION THAT READERS WON'T FOLLOW THE LINK AS THEY WILL BE PRETTY SURE THEY GOT THE GIST OF IT: "Now, one possible defense of Allen is that what appears to be simple payola is actually a more sociologically complex phenomenon. Allen, as Wemple reports, has personal friendships with many of his sponsors, uses them as sources, and generally shares their point of view on most issues even while failing to acknowledge he has a point of view at all. This is less a defense than a concession that Allen is so hopelessly embedded within the Establishment that he can't cover it in a remotely fair way.

"...[Jim] VandeHei's final defense verges on parody: Allen, he argues, has "no business interest" in giving favorable treatment to advertisers. There is the fact that advertisers pay him $35,000 a week, or up to $1.8 million a year. If those clients realize that their paid advertisements also buy them favorable coverage in Playbook, that would make them dramatically more interested in paying Allen's exorbitant rates.

"...[POLITICO'S] strategy of pretending the payola allegations don't exist has worked brilliantly, from a business perspective. Given the reality that Politico has suffered little to no reputation damage from the scandal, it seems like selling favorable coverage, whatever the ethical merits, is in fact a brilliant business strategy." http://goo.gl/lyRfdO

PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE: An intern could do this job. (If you plan to hire an intern to do this job, please pay them, though you needn't pay them as much as POLITICO pays Mike Allen.) One randomly selected edition of POLITICO PLAYBOOK is nearly 3,400 words long. Fewer than 500 of its words were actually written by Mike Allen. The rest is lengthy quotes of other journalists' articles, press releases and ads. There's nothing special about this one in particular; PLAYBOOK often features even less original Allen writing. http://goo.gl/W6sX0c

--CHASER: POLITICO media reporter Dylan Byers gets snotty with the Huffington Post over aggregation. http://goo.gl/oC0XsO

--Some of the words Allen does commonly write: "SPORTS BLINK" ... "BUSINESS BLINK" ... "REUTERS" ... "SCARBOROUGH" ... "DRIVING THE CONVERSATION."

HOW THE SAUSAGE GETS MADE -- READ A FLACK QUOTED IN A NEWS STORY AND THEN READ THE FLACK'S FULL, UNEDITED STATEMENT IN PLAYBOOK -- “GOP group money down, hints at donor uncertainty,” AP's Thomas Beaumont and Steve Peoples: "'Unlike previous cycles, we won't be sending good money after substandard candidates with weak campaigns,' said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the conservative super political action committee American Crossroads." http://goo.gl/ADHArB


--BEHIND THE SCENES: The flack sent Allen the same quote he sent the AP reporters because he knew Allen would share the entire thing, including the self-serving parts that the AP reporters omitted because they don't consider passing along spin from a paid spokesman to be part of their jobs as reporters.

TO TELL YOUR KIDS: Mike Allen is a silly man who lives in a secret den in a funny little town called Washington. His job is to tell all the other silly men that they are very, very important and strong.

THE JUICE -- JOE SCARBOROUGH inexplicably mentioned in PLAYBOOK constantly.

MIKE ALLEN'S PLAYBOOK, 9/13/13 -- "FIRST LOOK AT JOE SCARBOROUGH'S NEW BOOK." "EXCLUSIVE – JOE SCARBOROUGH ON HOW THE GOP CAN WIN IN 2016: The 'Morning Joe' host’s new book, 'The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics--and Can Again,' will be published Nov. 12 by Random House, and is edited by JON MEACHAM. The buzz among GOP insiders is that 'The Right Path' has the potential to galvanize conservatives in the way Barry Goldwater's 'Conscience of a Conservative' did half a century ago -- especially conservatives ready to return to the winning ways of Ronald Reagan, who is on the cover, shown striding down the White House colonnade ... See the cover ($16.69 Amazon preorder; $10.99 on Kindle)." http://goo.gl/U17Kbx

MIKE ALLEN's PLAYBOOK, 4/10/13: MIKE ALLEN writes 1,285-word party report for JOE SCARBOROUGH's birthday -- "JOE SCARBOROUGH is surprised in D.C. on his 50th: pics, toasts, guest list, menu"-- "--SPOTTED: Marc Adelman, Yousef Al Otaiba and Abeer Al Otaiba, Mike Allen, Adrienne Arsht, TJ Asprea and Monica, Melody Barnes, Mike Barnicle, Tim Barnicle (sophomore at Georgetown), Sen. John Barrasso, Mika Brzezinski, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Rep. Vern Buchanan, Louis Burgdorf, David Campbell and Rachel Cacioppo Campbell, Jonathan Capehart and Nick Schmit, Margaret Carlson, Steve Clemons, Timothy Coe, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen, Clayton Collins, Ann Edelberg, Zeke Emanuel, Jeff Fager, Anne Finucane, Willie Geist, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Josh Green, David Gregory and Beth Wilkinson, Phil Griffin, Richard Haass, Jane Harman, Jane Heller and Bryn Rose, Gary Hopkins, Kelly Horton and T. Cody, Al Hunt, Mary Kaye Huntsman, Walter Isaacson, Joe Januszewski and Ashley Januszewski, Valerie Jarrett, Sen. Tim Kaine, Kim Kingsley, Derrick Kitts, Alex Korson, former Rep. Steve Largent, Mark Leibovich, Chris Licht, Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mark McKinnon, Mark McLaughlin and Mindy, Jon Meacham, Collier Merrill, Richard Mintz, …

"… Andrea Mitchell, Ramy Mansour, Kelly O'Donnell and David Ake, Lawrence O’Donnell, Dave Pawlak and Anita, Steve Rattner and Maureen White, Julia Reed, Ed Rendell, Eugene Robinson, Tom Rogers, Lisa Roper, Luke Russert and Maureen Orth, Adriana Sahliyeh, Rep. Matt Salmon, Katie Sansom, Rich Santo and Kristin, Andrew Scarborough, George Scarborough, Joey Scarborough, Susan Scarborough with Kate and Jack, Palmer Scarritt and Ginny Scarritt, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Dan Senor, Marty Sherman, Lauren Skowronski, Jamie Smith, Michelle Smith and Andrew Oshrin, Simeon Spencer, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Sam Stein and Jessica Leinwand, Amy Little Thomas, Katherine Thomson, Sen. John Thune and daughter Brittany Thune, Jon Tower, Dan Tully and Tim White, Jim VandeHei, Nicolle Wallace, Carolyn Ward, Rep. Maxine Waters, Bob Woodward, Mort Zuckerman and more." http://goo.gl/6DlE1U

FLASHBACK -- MIKE ALLEN's PLAYBOOK, 4/9/13 -- PLAYBOOK runs nearly 500 word excerpt of glowing AP profile of Scarborough. ALLEN: "'Morning' Joe Scarborough is '36'" http://goo.gl/OrlArx

TRANSLATION: Allen and Scarborough have a symbiotic relationship in which Allen indulges Scarborough's need to feel powerful, influential and connected, in return for Scarborough allowing Allen to feel that he is America's foremost chronicler of the doings of the powerful, influential and connected.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: A hypothetical but realistic example of how PLAYBOOK will in the near future hype a column or article advancing the views of a specific business interest: "Officials, lawmakers and CEOs all agree that fracking is the key to unleashing the economy and also very safe and environmentally friendly. … Midway through what began as a description of the viewpoints of CEOs and unnamed officials I will drop the pretense that I don't also share this view. Then I'll quote a spokesman or even an executive from a lobbying group that represents energy companies. … Following that, I'll print 95 percent of a press release from that group, and then I'll promote a forthcoming event or campaign organized by that group. … A bit later, PLAYBOOK will feature some text that looks like this":

***A special message from The American Energy Roundtable. America is in the midst of an energy renaissance, one with absolutely no long-term environmental consequences and one that will assuredly last forever. Here at the American Energy Roundtable, we're committed to investing in the future, and there is absolutely nothing vaguely sinister about our calculatedly innocuous name.***

PLAYBOOK MINDMELD: Even the seemingly harmless daily list of birthdays is an impressive extension of the Playbook brand identity. The list both enhances the sense of clubby insularity that allows each Playbook insider to feel like a true "insider," and is yet another means of currying favor with certain people. Allen can both suck up to sources by recognizing their birthdays and allow his contacts to curry favor with one another through the use of the "hat tipped" birthday announcement.

SPORTS BLINK -- FAMED POLITICAL TIPSHEET PLAYBOOK INCLUDES STRANGE NUGGETS OF STALE SPORTS NEWS, LIKE THE SCORE OF ONE COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME PLAYED YESTERDAY, NEAR END OF MOST DAY'S EDITIONS. This is perhaps an effort on the part of the author, MIKE ALLEN, to present himself as a normal human with normal human interests, engaged in casual interaction and communication with other well-socialized adult professionals.


QUOTE OF THE DAY "That’s what happens when you have Grampa Newt! You get to go to a Trident submarine!" -- Mike Allen http://goo.gl/URh8Ti

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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