January 18, 2013
(Preston Keres / The Washington Post)
(Preston Keres / The Washington Post)

The media savvy of Lanny Davis and Michael Steele continues resoundingly. Last June, the two Washington insiders launched Purple Nation Solutions, a “strategic communications and public affairs firm.” “Purple” means bipartisan, as in a melding of red and blue America, and the media craves this K Street appeal for aisle-crossing harmony. Cable news, accordingly, gave these Washington entrepreneurs a plush runway to talk about bringing the country together. It was great publicity.

More such exposure happened this morning at McCormick & Schmick’s on K Street NW. A breakfast-cum-panel discussion titled “The Media and Beltway Gridlock” addressed the evergreen question of why politicians in this town can’t get along. And just who would be the perfect guests for that topic? Lanny Davis and Michael Steele of Purple Nation Solutions.

Davis, a White House official under the Clinton administration, and Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, shared their thoughts with Howard Kurtz, the Daily Beast’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” Lauren Ashburn, editor-in-chief of the Daily Download, moderated the proceedings before a room of reporters and Beltway types.

Davis contended media outlets aren’t doing enough to cover the areas on which Republicans and Democrats find common ground. He asked Kurtz whether he can get “column inches” for such stories, to which Kurtz replied that he can get column inches for any damn story he likes.

Three policy areas are notable for the convergence between the parties, in Davis’s view:

1) Immigration reform: Both sides of the aisle want it, and so do the American people.

2) Gun control: Liberals and conservatives have both voiced support for background checks.

3) Global warming: People can agree that nuclear energy is a strong way to power the world without further heating the planet. The whole nuclear-waste thing is a legitimate issue, however, Davis said.

No. 3 was a convenient little comment, given that the banner for the event listed as a sponsor the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), an institute that that advances nuclear energy. When asked after the event if NEI is a client of his, Davis said it wasn’t, though perhaps he now has a good little foothold for a retainer proposal.

Nor did Davis plug nuclear energy after figuring out that the NEI was a sponsor. “It was pure coincidence,” said Davis, who said that he told the NEI rep at the event that he wasn’t “pandering” to his organization.

Okay, Davis. Whatever its inspiration, the comment drives at the grossness of media folks sharing space on the same banner with big Washington interests. That proximity, of course, are commonplace in Washington, Aspen and elsewhere, as media companies like Politico, the Atlantic, The Washington Post and many others capitalize on their roles as discussion leaders.

“Sponsors arent’ the anti-Christ,” said Ashburn after the event, noting that they help to defray the costs of bringing people together to discuss contemporary topics.

Ashburn organized the event together under the auspices of the Daily Download, which she says she runs on a threadbare budget provided in large part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “[W]hile the event may wind up generating a little revenue, I plow it all back into my small startup business,” notes Ashburn. The Daily Download is a content partner with the Daily Beast; Ashburn and Kurtz frequently team up on videos about topics on the media beat.

The event’s glue, of course, is Kurtz, the Washington media force who’s been watching Pennsylvania Avenue partisanship for greater than two decades. If Kurtz has crusaded for anything, it’s civility and fairness to both major parties. Davis and Steele were clearly delighted to leverage his reputation in front of a bunch of reporters. (Purple Nations Solutions was not a sponsor of the event; Davis and Steele were merely invited.)

The heart of the Erik Wemple Blog goes out to all those lobbying outfits that pass up such opportunities by failing to mix purple into their logos.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.