Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"You Can Dislike The Beltway Bubble And Still Try To Work Within It"

Greg Sargent:
Everybody is talking about Marc Leibovich’s magazine piece on Politico’s Mike Allen, and I’m definitely a daily reader and a fan of Playbook.

But I wanted to flag this particular nugget in the piece, because it encapsulates something that always creeps into discussions of the Beltway media: The bogus notion that there’s a contradiction afoot when Obama officials show disdain for the Beltway bubble even as they do their best to function within it:

Politico today remains a White House shorthand for everything the administration claims to dislike about Washington — Beltway myopia, politics as daily sport. Yet most of the president’s top aides are as steeped in this culture as anyone else — and work hard to manipulate it. “What’s notable about this administration is how ostentatiously its people proclaim to be uninterested in things they are plainly interested in,” Harris, Politico’s editor in chief, told me in an e-mail message.

That Politico has been so vilified inside the White House is itself a sign of its entry into “the bloodstream” (another Politico phrase). It is, White House officials say, an indictment of the “Washington mentality” that the city is sustaining Politico and letting it “drive the conversation” to the extent it does. In early March, Axelrod was sitting in his West Wing office, complaining to me about the “palace-intrigue pathology” of Washington and why he missed Chicago. “I prefer living in a place where people don’t discuss the Politico over dinner,” he said.

This sort of talk tends to ilicit snorts of derision from Beltway media insiders. They say the Obama media team is cynically using the Beltway bubble as a foil to position Obama as an outsider. But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Obama administration officials really don’t like the Beltway media’s excesses.

After all, the Obama team, in addition to managing their own careers, are also running the country. And the Beltway bubble’s priorities — the manic 24-hour news cycle, its prioritizing of speed over accuracy, and its obsession with today’s polls and with who’s up and who’s down — really do complicate the act of governing. It’s understandable that the Obama team would come to genuinely dislike the media culture here, while simultaneously trying to do their best to work within it and, yes, manipulate it.

Politico has plenty of virtues — the big picture pieces, the relentless reporting on the internals of Congress, the bloggers who frequently break useful news, etc. — but parts of it really do encapsulate, to a disproportionate degree, the Beltway bubble’s excesses. I doubt its editors would even contest that. Once members of the Obama team leave the administration and start up their own consulting firms, perhaps they’ll be begging for their own Politico profiles. But for now, it seems obvious that they genuinely dislike the influence the excessive aspects of Politico are having on the discourse. It makes their jobs more difficult. And their jobs are pretty important right now.


Update: A colleague points out that the press’ job isn’t to make governing officials’ lives easier. True enough. Just saying that there’s a difference between making officials’ lives harder with aggressive reporting designed to hold them accountable and making them harder by prioritizing speed over accuracy or obsessing over “palace intrigue.”

Howie P.S.: I wish "everybody" was talking about how Wall Street and the banksters ripped the rest of us off, but they aren't, and won't (with conviction) anytime soon. Jason Linkins (HuffPo) reviews the Liebovich piece ("Mike Allen Profile: We Read The NYT Magazine's Politico Piece So You Don't Have To") and offers this descriptive prose about Politico and by extension, Mike Allen:
Basically, Politico takes some crap, shines it up, gets a legion of followers to inflate the empty bubble, bets against it, watches it pop, and then cashes in on whatever micro-transactions they can grub up in terms of pageviews and "influence" (less a verb than the root form of a noun!). Basically, the Magnetar model of journalism!

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