The Washington Post

In defense of media reporting

Politico's Mike Allen, left, interviews Timothy Geithner. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images) Politico’s Mike Allen, left, interviews Timothy Geithner. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

Over the past two days, the Erik Wemple Blog has engaged with Politico editors over a series of articles citing and criticizing some coverage trends in “Playbook,” the famous and popular morning newsletter authored by Politico’s Mike Allen. We won’t recount it all here, except to highlight one remark from Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris:

I believe the Post is allowing its justly respected platform to be used to advance a personal or competitive agenda, rather than a fair or responsible journalistic one.

First things first: We appreciate Harris’s concern for the integrity of our “respected platform.”

Second: This blog does no favors for The Post and has never received instructions, orders, suggestions, hints or winks from management to go after any particular competitor — Politico or otherwise. In fact, we’ve written posts critical of our own organization — posts that, an observer might remark, hardly advance The Post’s competitive position. Nor is there any “personal” agenda at this blog.

Third: Media reporting!

In an interview that aired Sunday, CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter issued a disclosure as he interviewed Gabriel Sherman, author of the much-talked-about biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes. “I want to — before we go any further, talk about the fact that CNN is a direct competitor to Fox News.” That was a bit superfluous: By now, media criticism is so ubiquitous that few people pass ignorant that it’s promulgated by those competing with the outlets they’re reporting on.

Let’s take an example from the archives of Politico. In November 2012, its media reporter Dylan Byers wrote about a major reorganization at National Journal, the insiderish Beltway outlet. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

The reorganization suggests an acknowledgment by Atlantic Media owner David G. Bradley that an experiment which began two years ago — to refashion the pricey, policy-heavy weekly magazine into a direct competitor with POLITICO and other fast-paced Washington news outlets — did not work.

During its relaunch in 2010, Brownstein told the New York Times that National Journal was “much more substantive than POLITICO and much more sophisticated than C.Q. or Bloomberg in terms of its understanding of how things happen or don’t happen in Washington.”

Alas, it could not make that case to readers.

Dialing back yet further finds this 2010 Politico article on how the business model of the Hotline, a property under the same roof as National Journal, was “dying,” in the words of a then-former staffer. The Hotline is a storied political tip sheet, containing all manner of nuggets and Beltway information — kind of like a lot of other products out there, including Politico’s “Playbook.”

Were these two stories evidence that Politico has used its justly respected platform to advance its competitive agenda? Nah. Politico does aggressive media coverage, and aggressive media coverage sometimes means that you hammer the people competing for the same audience. What matters is how the stuff holds up.

About four months after the Byers piece on the National Journal re-org, National Journal announced that it was hiring Tim Grieve, a senior Politico editor, to run the place — all but an admission that it needed a Politico person to beat Politico. Score one for media reporting.

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