October 17, 2013
Carolyn Kaster / The Associated Press
House Speaker John Boehner, left, and President Obama (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

If a major Washington event has come to an end, it’s time for that newsroom staple, the congratulatory memo from the top editor to the hard-working staff. Any self-respecting post-big-story memo commonly bears a mix of the following components:

1) A nod to how hard everyone worked;

2) A nod to the impact of the work;

3) This is what it’s all about.

Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron covered some of that ground in an all-staff e-mail that included these lines:

If the moment called for smart analysis, you delivered. If the legislative process seemed especially bewildering — that is, most of the time — you stepped in with brisk and immensely valuable explainers. No one was more competitive, no one more sophisticated, and no one more resourceful in developing new and engaging ways to tell this story, in print and online. Throughout, you worked with seemingly inexhaustible energy.

Politico top editor John Harris, in a memo published by FishbowlDC’s Betsy Rothstein, went quite a bit further: “POLITICO has dominated this story in every way, at every moment, in every particular.” Except, of course, for the particulars that were dominated by others, especially National Review’s Robert Costa, who appears to have won the shutdown-coverage gold medal. If you believe the National Review, Republican leadership was worried about leaks to the National Review. Politico did dominate the origins of the fraudulent Obamacare “exemption” talk, a particular that avoided mention in the memo.

As a proud editor, Harris is entitled to his impressions of Politico’s performance, but his memo veered into the area of factual representation right here: “POLITICO’s congressional reporters and editors have left not just their colleagues but the entire city in awe…”

Bold text added to flag a sourcing issue here. How’s Harris measuring the entire city? Does he have “sources from Palisades to Deanwood who are familiar with the coverage.” “Dedicated readers in Barney Circle”?

Joking aside, Harris’s chest-pounding is so percussive as to diminish its morale-boosting potency among Politico staff. Yes, the site’s congressional reporters work like mad and are deeply sourced — the Erik Wemple Blog clicks on their stuff all the time. A spectacle as sprawling and diffuse as the shutdown/debt limit debacle, however, stiff-arms any media organization with king-of-the-Hill pretenses. There are just too many points of access, too many scoops to be had.

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