Last week’s summit of top Republican donors, convened by Mitt Romney in Park City, Utah, was a frustrating event for reporters. Though five potential Republican presidential candidates made the scene, media access was uneven: Some big shots spoke to reporters but others didn’t, and panel discussions were not only off the record but closed altogether to reporter types.
Those journos who did show up had to scramble for crumbs in the hallways.
Except for at least two: Mike Allen of Politico and Mark Halperin of Bloomberg served as participants in this confab of Republican giants, chatting as panelists in a session with Republican strategist Karl Rove. Though an event schedule is either nonexistent or scarce, a knowledgeable source confirms the setup, and neither Allen nor Bloomberg denies it. Other media folks weren’t allowed to attend the discussion. Rove knows off-the-record — it was at just such a no-media session that he allegedly made those controversial remarks about the health of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Panelist work afforded Allen and Halperin insider status at the Romney event. They were allowed to attend all of the various sessions, provided that they respected the off-the-record stipulation, according to the source. In many cases, other reporters didn’t get to attend them, even if they agreed to the dubious off-the-record condition. Speeches by four of the five 2016 possible Republican hopefuls were off-limits to regular old reporters.
Ground rules didn’t prevent Allen from putting the event at the top of the Saturday edition of his popular Politico “Playbook.” He noted that the event was “staged” by Solamere Capital, an investment firm founded by Tagg Romney. He put this plug at the top of “Playbook”: “ROMNEY NOSTALGIA WEEKEND: Backers gather in Utah, where he hits ‘the Obama-Biden-Hillary-Clinton foreign policy.’ ” And he wrapped things up with this observation:
The weekend’s top takeaway is WISTFULNESS: Romney, his family, and their friends and retainers here think he should have won, wish he had won, think he would have done a good job, and feel that many of his positions have been vindicated by world events. The subliminal message: If everything blows up and there has to be a savior, WMR is tanned, rested and ready.
Given earned media like that, it’s no wonder that the organizers signed up Allen as a participant. His Saturday write-up didn’t include a disclosure that Allen was part of the in-crowd in Park City.
Now, journalists participate in panel discussions every week, though they commonly differ from the Park City situation in two respects: One, they’re generally sponsored by journalism organizations and less often by decidedly partisan organizations; two, when they are sponsored by partisan organizations, the proceedings are usually open to the public — live-tweeted, videotaped, consumed by the masses. The particulars of the Allen-Halperin-Rove session have no such footprint, and their secrecy carries the active support and participation of two renowned journalists. Allen’s failure to apprise “Playbook” readers of his involvement in the event deprives them of knowing just how much of an insider he has become.
When asked about the arrangement, Allen didn’t dispute the core facts; instead, he seized upon the adjacencies supplied by such a gathering: “It was a useful chance to hear the pitches of 2016 possibles,” he wrote via e-mail. “We and other journalists pushed for on-the-record access. As a result, organizers opened a few sessions and held a couple of avails.”
As for Halperin, he appears not to have written about the event for Bloomberg. Last month Bloomberg announced the hiring of Halperin and John Heilemann — co-authors of the very popular book “Game Change” on the 2008 presidential election — to launch a special Web site on politics, the better to provide some consumer altitude to the Bloomberg brand. “Game Change” is powered by just the sort of off-the-record whispers that an ultra-insider might pick up at Romney’s event.
Neither Allen nor Halperin accepted money in the form of speaking fees or in travel expenses, according to both parties. They appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday morning to share insights from the conference.