In early November 2001, Mike Allen, then a reporter at The Post, sent an email to Anne Womack, assistant press secretary in the George W. Bush White House. The subject line was classic Mike Allen: “problems? cell [redacted] chrs, m”. Attached to the email is what appeared to be a draft of a story on a Bush directive on presidential records:
The peek into the reporting methods of one of the Beltway’s most recognizable bylines comes via documents posted by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who served in the second Bush administration — first in the counsel’s office and later as staff secretary.
So Kavanaugh cared a great deal about Bush’s order on the release of presidential records. As the documents show, Womack forwarded Allen’s email to Kavanaugh, who responded to Womack this way: “ridiculous; misses the boat on several fronts; a journalistic embarrassment.”
How Kavanaugh reached that assessment is unclear. The Erik Wemple Blog encourages some senator to ask him about the matter in the ongoing confirmation hearings that plaster cable news this week. In any case, the story — both the version in Allen’s email and a published version from Nov. 2, 2001, with George Lardner Jr. as a co-byline — quoted generously from folks who opposed the Bush move on paper. “This is a real monster,” Vanderbilt University historian Hugh Graham was quoted as saying in the article.
In an additional email, Kavanaugh conveyed a bit of federal-records humor: “And I hope this last email is quickly and freely released in 2021, 12 years after the President’s term in office ends.”
In another missive, Allen sent to Kavanaugh a draft story about a colleague:
We asked Allen about the reference to “apple martinis.” Was that a source meeting? We have yet to hear back.
As the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich documented years ago, Allen is an around-the-clock journalist, and he leaves behind an enormous electronic record. Sometimes the imprints are unflattering, as when Gawker’s J.K. Trotter caught him pledging positive coverage of Chelsea Clinton and busted him for allowing a Clinton aide to ghost-write a newsletter entry. And as the Erik Wemple Blog documented years ago, Allen, while author of Politico’s Playbook, planted soft references in the newsletter for advertisers. He now works for Axios.
As for his sharing of draft stories — that’s a controversial tactic that came to the fore of the journo-ethics world back in 2012, when a reporter with The Post was found to have shared a draft with officials at the University of Texas. The Erik Wemple Blog took a dovish stance on the practice at the time, which we’ve revised a touch since then. In any case, Anne Womack Kolton, the press aide who dealt with Allen and now serves as vice president for communications at the American Chemistry Council, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that Allen’s generosity with drafts wasn’t an “isolated” phenomenon. “It really was about trying to ensure the accuracy of what they were reporting, especially when discussing or reporting on complex, legal topics that aren’t front of mind for most reporters or readers,” she says.
Please, Senate judiciary committee members: Press Kavanaugh on the ethics of journalistic draft-sharing.