Linda Douglass, former Obama aide, rejoins mainstream media

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010; 5:51 AM

Linda Douglass, the veteran network correspondent who became President Obama's chief health care spokeswoman, is heading back to journalism.

She is joining the Atlantic as a vice president at a time when David Bradley's media operation is attempting something of a digital transformation -- and hiring no fewer than 30 journalists for National Journal.

"My role is helping the company get the visibility and recognition it deserves," says Douglass, who left the Obama administration two months ago. "It is chock-full of smart analysts and great writers. We have a chance to play a really important role in the Washington conversation."

Bradley says Douglass will concentrate on company strategy and communications -- joining his "senior cabinet" -- in an effort to "build up the brand names" of both his magazines and their writers. In the past, he says, "it was perfectly fine being something all your grandparents read. but for getting attention, getting links, attracting talent, it looks like famous now matters."

Douglass brings a bit of fame from both sides of the media/political complex. After a career spent mostly at ABC and CBS, Douglass joined National Journal, where she was a radio host and contributing editor (and wrote a cover story on John McCain), and Bradley says he "hated losing her" when she joined the Obama campaign as traveling press secretary.

While her political tenure "troubles me not at all" for the corporate part of the job, Bradley says, he sees a "blinking red light" when she gets involved with the journalistic side, especially as it involves the president or health care. But, adds Bradley, "she's too big an editorial talent for us to keep her out of the editorial product."

Douglass says any editorial role is "very much up in the air" but that her experience helps: "I've had the good fortune to see the media operate from all sides. I'm not assigning reporters' stories and telling them how to write them."

In an effort to remake National Journal, a premium policy weekly that costs subscribers nearly $2,000 a year, Bradley has created a unified newsroom that includes his other properties, such as the Hotline and Congress Daily. He also offered buyouts to his 106-person NJ staff, and 30 people took the offer. Now he's conducting "the biggest talent search in the history of National Journal" -- as well as looking for a new editor -- for journalists with multimedia skills. In an age of shrinking news organizations, the hiring binge has attracted about 250 résumés so far.

Midterm Jumble

Some journalists are candidly admitting that we didn't learn much about the country's political direction on Tuesday. Instead, it was an uneven collection of local results. As Washington Monthly's Steve Benen says, "For my money, the moral of the story is that there is no moral to the story. On the same day, in different parts of the country, we saw completely contradictory trends."

But there were plenty of interesting threads in the tapestry of individual races, most notably in Blanche Lincoln beating the union-backed Bill Halter in Arkansas after many pundits had all but written her off.

"Lincoln's victory, after she failed to avert a runoff in the May 18 primary, proved so satisfying that a smug Democratic establishment couldn't help but rub it in the left's face -- and particularly in the faces of the major unions," Politico says.

" 'Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,' a senior White House official told POLITICO. 'If even half that total had been well targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.' . . .

"One way to appreciate the importance of Lincoln's victory is to imagine the reaction if the result -- as many expected -- had gone the other way. It would have sent an unmistakable message to moderates of Lincoln's stripe in the South and across the country about the perils of Clinton-style centrism in an age of anger."

Isn't it fascinating, by the way, how Lincoln has gotten far more media attention for this campaign than for what she's done in her two Senate terms?

Atlantic's Josh Green says her renomination could affect a major piece of legislation:

"Seems to me that one big winner tonight are proponents of tougher financial regulations, especially fans of Lincoln's provision forcing banks to spin off their derivatives business. The assumption until a few minutes ago was that Lincoln would lose and her provision would quietly get stripped in the conference committee that's about to take place. Now that she's won -- and won narrowly, and faces a very tough race in the fall -- the calculus becomes a lot tougher. It doesn't seem like a stretch to conclude that Lincoln eked out a win by convincing just enough voters that she was a Wall Street scourge. If her signature provision goes down in flames, she'll look toothless and weak, and almost certainly lose her seat."

Nevada is the hot new battleground after tea-party favorite Sharron Angle won the state's Republican primary. TPM is on her case:

"The peculiar ideology of Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee challenging Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada, is perhaps no better illustrated than by her embrace of the patriot group Oath Keepers, whose membership of uniformed soldiers and police take an oath to refuse orders they see as unconstitutional -- including enforcement of gun laws, violations of states' sovereignty, and 'any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.'

" 'We support what the organization stands for,' Angle's husband, Ted, told TPMDC in a phone interview Monday. 'Sharron does.' "

And there's this: "Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle earlier in her career spoke out strongly against fluoride, the substance known alternately for improving dental health and as a Communist plot to undermine Western democracy."

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait can hardly believe it:

"It's not very often you see a political party shoot itself in the foot by nominating an obviously terrible candidate when better alternatives are available. One exception is the Illinois Democrats, who turned what should be a safe seat into a competitive one by nominating Alex Giannoulias, whose family bank went under, for Senate. . . .

"But the nomination of Republican Sharron Angle for Senate in Nevada stands on its own. This is a prime pick-up opportunity for the GOP. The incumbent, Harry Reid, is wildly unpopular in the state, and his defeat would be a prized pelt for the Republicans. Almost any warm body could beat him in a walk. But Angle appears to be a genuine lunatic:

"Inflammatory rhetoric: In an interview last month with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Angle had this to say about gun laws: 'What is a little bit disconcerting and concerning is the inability for sporting goods stores to keep ammunition in stock," she told the newspaper. "That tells me the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn't that they are so distrustful of their government?'. . . .

"Abolishing wide swaths of the federal government: Angle believes the U.S. Education Department should be abolished, as she explains on her campaign Web site: 'Sharron Angle believes that the Federal Department of Education should be eliminated. The Department of Education is unconstitutional and should not be involved in education, at any level.' Angle went further in an interview with a Nevada online publication, writing that she favored the termination of the Energy Department, the EPA and much of the IRS tax code; complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

"How crazy is Angle? Glenn Beck -- Glenn Beck! -- warned against her."

National Review's Daniel Foster isn't celebrating:

"Look, I wish Sue Lowden had won. Why? Because Harry Reid was weak and she could have beaten him. Sharron Angle probably (probably) cannot. I've maintained that the biggest lesson from the Obamacare debacle in the Senate is that party affiliation matters, far more than actual ideology, in determining the fate of the Obama agenda."

Remember all the prognosticators who gave Charlie Crist little chance when it was clear that Marco Rubio was going to crush him for the GOP nomination in Florida? The oil spill may have helped him:

"A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Sunshine State finds Rubio and Crist each earning 37% of the vote, while Democratic hopeful Kendrick Meek trails with 15% support."

The twin triumphs of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California are getting lots of play (it helps to be able to spend large personal fortunes). But is it a full-fledged theme? Hot Air's Ed Morrissey is skeptical:

"Assuming these Republican women triumph in November, don't expect the media to fawn over them the way they did in 1992 with the Democrats. Besides overcoming the natural liberal bias we see throughout much of the national press, it would also require the media to give [Sarah] Palin and [Michele] Bachmann some credit, which will happen when global cooling hits Hell. But in this case, assuming the Tea Party triumphs, the label may be even more appropriate than in 1992."

Whitman's opponent is taking aim at her business experience, the L.A. Times reports:

"A day after Meg Whitman won the Republican primary for governor, Democratic nominee Jerry Brown kicked off his general-election campaign by mocking his wealthy rival's lavish campaign spending and her history as chief executive of EBay.

" 'She talks about waste and abuse,' Brown told reporters at a morning news conference in downtown Los Angeles. 'She paid herself $120 million, and then EBay had to lay off 10% of its workforce. Now, is that waste and abuse? Is that what you want?' "

Blago's Defense

I love that Rod Blagojevich's trial defense is that he was dumb and had "horrible" judgment.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Blago's lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., called the allegation that the guv would sell Obama's Senate seat to Jesse Jackson Jr. "upside down" and "suggested Blagojevich was only floating the idea of a Jackson appointment because he thought it would help sell Washington power brokers on his real plan: appointing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. If Madigan were named to the seat, Adam said, Blagojevich hoped to placate his main political nemesis in Springfield, powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, Lisa's father, who was challenging the governor's initiatives at every turn.

"And it worked, he said, contending that soon-to-be White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, the former North Side congressman, agreed on the day before Blagojevich's arrest to fly to Chicago and help broker a Senate deal for Madigan."

Blago was trying to buy off the dad!

Obama's Emotion

In the wake of the butt-kicking interview on "Today," Bill Kristol says:

"Guess the criticism of him as a professor and seminar leader has gotten to him. But his pseudo-macho defense of 'talking to experts' is itself professorial: He talks to experts so he'll 'know whose ass to kick.' Real men don't need experts to tell them whose asses to kick. And real presidents aren't so thin-skinned and self-pitying."

Not sure I get the self-pitying part.

But do those who want a fiery president have an ulterior motive? Here's Ta-Nehisi Coates:

"We are being told by various personalities that Obama's problem is that he isn't showing enough emotion. . . .

"It's also possible that if Obama yelled at his press conferences, kicked over the lectern and generally unfurled the Bruce Banner, the various news personalities would have more to talk about besides the fact that he refuses to do exactly that. It's not clear that such a display would, over the long term, move Obama's poll numbers a whit. I suspect the assembled personalities are concerned with numbers of their own. This is their right. It's also our right to wonder who this proposed tantrum would actually benefit."

Helen Thomas Aftermath

In my story the other day, I quoted former CNN freelancer Mark Rabin as recounting a conversation he had with the Hearst columnist about Hezbollah. While on deadline I had missed the fact that he had asked me in an e-mail not to identify him by name, and I'm sorry about that.

NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard offers a note of sympathy:

"Based on recent coverage, one might think legendary journalist Helen Thomas had died.

"She hasn't and I hope when that event happens that her recent hideous error of judgment will not be the lead of her obituary.

"She doesn't deserve that. . . .

"Nor should the White House remove the small plaque on the chair she occupied for 50 years. Other seats bear a news organization's name; but Thomas' seat in the front row right under the press secretary's podium declared her name.

"Female journalists owe a lot to Thomas. It is on her shoulders and those of a few other female reporters of her generation (including AP's Fran Lewine and the New York Times' Nan Robertson), that we were able to stand and be recognized as equally capable, and often better at, reporting the news."

True, but we can hardly whitewash the way her career ended, either.

Another Breakup

"One week after former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, dropped their separation bombshell, friends of the family quietly confirmed to People on Wednesday that the eldest of the couple's four children, daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, is separated from her husband of 12 years.

"Karenna, 36, and Andrew 'Drew' Schiff, 44, 'have been separated for a couple of months and in marriage counseling,' says a friend of the couple, who live in New York and have three small children."

The news has sparked the inevitable speculation about whether the two events might in some way be related.

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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