Media critic

CNN continues to pay tribute to the remarkable pool of talent assembled in the offices of Politico, the Rosslyn-based news outlet that launched in 2007. Today the 24-7 cable net announced the hiring of Manu Raju, Politico’s senior congressional reporter, to the position of senior political reporter. “He’ll focus on the senators who are running for president and also will work with our fabulous congressional team to bring us high-impact, behind-the-scenes reporting on Congress as we embark on an eventful and consequential fall,” notes an internal announcement from Virginia Moseley, CNN’s Washington deputy bureau chief, and Rachel Smolkin, executive editor of CNN Politics.

The news raises the head count of ex-Politiquites in the CNN digital politics operation to 11 — out of a total staff of about 40. MJ Lee, Steven Sloan, Jedd Rosche, Eric Bradner and Smolkin herself are among the other Politico alumni to make the leap to CNN over the past year. The unit, whose marching orders are to light up CNN.com but also seed the TV airwaves with their reporting, has also recruited from the Los Angeles Times (Maeve Reston), The Washington Post (Nia-Malika Henderson), Fox News (Karl de Vries) and several others.

CNN, of course, already has a quite-well-known congressional reporter in Dana Bash, who appears to take up residence in Capitol Hill corridors during key legislative showdowns. Is the Hill small enough for these two names? Absolutely, says Smolkin in an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog. Bash is splitting her time between the Hill and the presidential campaign trail — a double-duty assignment that Raju will also take on. “Dana is the gold standard and Manu can help with his behind-the-scenes reporting,” she says.

Raju is a towering get for the team. A seven-year veteran of Politico, he has made a living delivering details about behind-the-scenes congressional deliberations to Politico readers. Smolkin cited the reporter’s stuff on the fall 2013 government shutdown — in particular a story about how Senate Republicans were frustrated with Sen. Ted Cruz for “helping prompt a government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.” The story extracted particulars from a “closed-door lunch” in which lawmakers interrogated the brash Cruz. “‘It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy — he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was,’ said one senator who attended the meeting,” reads the story.

“The reporting is so, so solid from him,” says Smolkin. “He’s always so on top of everything that he’s reporting.”

Other news outlets agree. According to sources, Raju has in recent years fielded recruitment pitches from a number of organizations, including The Washington Post and the New York Times. He declined to comment to the Erik Wemple Blog on his reasons for switching to CNN. A public-facing note on Facebook provides little real information: “I am extremely excited about the new gig at CNN. I am tasked with covering all the drama in Congress, as well as the campaign trail, including the senators who are running for president and the consequential Senate races as well.”

In the absence of direct testimony, the Erik Wemple Blog prefers speculation. The opportunity at CNN digital politics may well have appealed to Raju, a frequent guest on the Sunday shows, because of the unit’s cross-platform exploits of recent months. CNN’s television producers have turned with increasing frequency to key players on Smolkin’s dot-com team in recent months, with people like Lee, Reston and Henderson popping up to chat about developments in the presidential primary contests. Legacy TV outlets typically have great difficulty integrating Web people into their broadcast programming.

What does the departure mean for Politico? A rather big hole. Early on, Rosslyn decided to play hard on Capitol Hill. It built a fast-paced congressional bureau that competitors have struggled to match, fueled by Raju and colleagues such as Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan, David Rogers, Anna Palmer, Burgess Everett and others. Since taking over the newsroom last fall, Editor Susan Glasser has focused on building out new capabilities at Politico, including a new wonkfest titled “The Agenda,” an emphasis on investigative/longform work — supported by the contributions of new big-name writers like Jack Shafer, Michael Crowley and Michael Grunwald.

Does Raju’s departure disjoint Politico’s star-to-worker-bee ratio? That’s a question for Glasser, who presides over a newsroom that simultaneously produces a lot of low-profile content for paying Beltway customers under the banner of Politico Pro plus scoopy and conceptual stuff geared toward a wider audience. Recent years have witnessed the departure of several folks from the star class, including Jonathan Martin, Alexander Burns, Maggie Haberman — all hired away by the New York Times — and now Raju. An interview request for Glasser has yet to fetch a response.