‘This Town’ author Mark Leibovich and the politics of a book party

July 26, 2013

Updated 2 p.m.

Hey, Mark Leibovich — sure hope your book party’s not off-the-record!

Hahaha! In “This Town,” his portrait of the Beltway’s incestuous media-political complex — which today debuted near the top of the best-seller liststhe most devastating scenes of preening, name-dropping and sucking-up were observed by the author at elite parties whose guests may have assumed they spoke within a protective cone of we’re-all-friends-here. So! Who turns out for That Guy’s party?

Author Mark Leibovich signs a copy of his book for Lori Aratani (yes, a Washington Post reporter -- one of the unavoidable realities of This Town) at his book party. (Amy Argetsinger / The Washington Post)
Author Mark Leibovich signs a copy of his book for Lori Aratani (yes, a Washington Post reporter: one of the unavoidable realities of This Town) at his book party. (Amy Argetsinger / The Washington Post)

None of the stars of “This Town,” as it happens. Though Leibovich, a New York Times political reporter, says they were all invited, none of his major characters — cocktail-circuit fixtures like Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, superlawyer Robert Barnett, media operative/event planner Tammy Haddad, lobbyist Trent Lott and Sen. Harry Reid (granted, not really a cocktail guy), all treated to varying levels of skewering — showed up Wednesday night to the party in an Adams-Morgan townhouse.

Burn many bridges? “There have been a few encounters on the street,” said Leibovich, a former Post colleague who included many, many of our other colleagues on the guest list. “I’m sure there are people talking bad about me.” But “most of the reaction has been in the ‘how dare he?’ vein, or ‘he’s broken an unspoken code’ — whatever that means.”

Notably, a recent story in Politico — the news outlet that itself is presented as a chattering font of conventional wisdom and power deference. The piece fretted that Leibovich’s stealth reporting would “send a chill through the elite after-hours social circuit — where the real business of this town often gets done.” Or as New York Times D.C. bureau chief David Leonhardt joked, “The only downside is that Mark’s career as a political journalist is almost entirely ruined.”

Aw, not really. They’re a resilient bunch, these Beltway types, and the room was populated by many of Leibovich’s bit players — RNC spokesman Sean Spicer, gently tweaked for a head-shaving-for-charity gimmick; political writer Jonathan Martin, whose insider-laden wedding to “Meet the Press” producer Betsy Fischer was lightly mocked; Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn, host of a party where Leibovich got the classic “D.C. scalp stare” (the gaze over your head in search of a more impressive guest). Also, two politicians whose headlines were too recent (and perhaps not Washington enough) for inclusion: Rep. Steve Cohen, of the secret-daughter-who-turned-out-not-to-be saga, and Texas state lawmaker Wendy Davis, star of the recent abortion filibuster.

Also here: one of “This Town’s” key supporting players, Jack Quinn, the Clinton White House counsel turned megalobbyist, portrayed as the quintessential Washington survivor, having taken the fall for a controversial pardon. In the book, Quinn explains why he bonded with GOP strategist Ed Gillespie before they went on to found a lucrative bipartisan lobbying firm: “Ed got the joke.”

Jack, can’t you please tell us what the joke is?

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to be quoted on it,” he told us with a rakish grin. “It’s like giving away the secret handshake!”

Leibovich, meanwhile, seemed sheepish about even having a book party — a genre of festivity that is one of This Town’s primary rituals of self-congratulation. “How does a book that’s strangling in meta celebrate itself without choking on meta?” he mused. Still, “This is my tribe. There is a lot of good about D.C., and a lot of it is here in this room.” Ohhh, that’s what they say at all the parties in This Town! “You can mock that, but it’s sincere.”

“This Town” by Mark Leibovich reviewed, 7/3/13
‘This Town’: Who comes off worst in Mark Leibovich’s takedown of insider Washington?, 7/3/13
Are you in This Town? The Unauthorized Index.
In which we spoil the ending of ‘This Town’ (video), 7/22/13

GALLERY: Dirt dished, who got it? 7/13/13

Also in The Reliable Source:

John McCain thinks strippers will do just fine without dollar bills

Hey, isn’t that. . .?: Shirley Jones

What did Huma Abedin know and when did she know it? [Read This]

Hey, isn’t that. . .?: Mallory Hagan

Wale says he was kicked off a plane for using his phone

Paging Dr. Danger? The real Carlos Danger, a Miami doctor, won’t discuss Weiner scandal

Liz Cheney, Mike Enzi raise question: What’s the right age for a senator?

 

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