5 More of the Most Awful Media People of 2013

Beltway media personalities dominate the list.

In the media hack list below, Alex Pareene has channeled each media figure's "unique" voice -- and let them "write" their own entries. You can find the previous five hacks in Pareene's list here

#5 Hack: Washington Post's Richard Cohen

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First of all, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy. And I am not a racist. And I am a critic of Richard Cohen — in fact I have called him “the worst writer in the world” — in addition to being funny and not racist. As a funny, not-racist guy who is one of Richard Cohen’s biggest critics, I think it’s time to face facts. Richard Cohen is right about black people and young women.

I know my critics will have a field day with this. I can already practically see my inbox filling up with nasty missives from the unhinged left. I am sure that someone will call me a racist, since it’s impossible these days to write honestly and frankly about the inherent scariness of young black men without getting called a racist. That’s a real shame.

First of all, it hurts to be called a racist. It’s deeply hurtful, and unfair. I myself have felt the ugly sting of being accused of racism on more occasions than I can count. And I know that if I weren’t a reasonably well-off white man of a certain age with a prestigious job in journalism, I’d certainly never be victimized like this.

I think we have a real problem in our culture these days, when a man like Richard Cohen can’t make the simple, reasonable argument that Trayvon Martin in some way bears responsibility for his own murder because of his choice of outfit without the ensuing response turning into a modern-day digital lynch mob. We all — all of us — know that, while we wish it weren’t so, black people commit all of the crimes. To deny that is to deny reality. I’m afraid I can’t deny reality. It’s time to grow up, and admit that not letting black people go to stores is just a sadly necessary response to the real, and important, fears of white people.

Where is the politician brave enough to address the widespread fear of black violence? No major public figure ever talks about it, besides Richard Cohen. There is a political correctness omerta around the issue of black people committing crime and being frightening. I wish I had a solution to this problem. I thought Barack Obama would fix it, by making it permissible for Richard Cohen to admit to his racial anxieties without fear of any sort of backlash. But did the former Barry Obama make it OK for Richard Cohen to defend racial profiling? No. Is the solution to put into place a criminal justice system designed to detain and imprison as many people of color as possible? I don’t know. Does such a system already exist? I don’t know. If it does, is it racist? It’s a painfully, achingly, staggeringly complex issue, but I think it is not.

It may seem that whenever I ponder a very difficult and complex issue, I, like Richard Cohen, invariably come down on the side that allows me to persist in my existing prejudices. Nothing could be further from the truth. I, like so many Americans, have spent many years with comfortable delusions, only to be shaken of them later in life, when reality, in the form of fiction, intervenes. Take the example of the Salem Witch Trials. Like all of us, I labored for years under the impression that they were just a bit of a prank that got out of hand. It wasn’t until I saw the remarkable, beautiful film “ParaNorman” that I realized the terrible truth. Many of the tens of thousands of women publicly executed as witches throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, in Europe and the United States, weren’t witches at all. Indeed, most of them weren’t. Some of them were just little girls with the power to speak with friendly dead people. Many didn’t even have that power.

Alas, not all art is as inspiring as “ParaNorman.” I had the distinct misfortune of seeing a photograph of Miley Cyrus recently, and, like everyone else, I was appalled. I’m told she was recently found to be “twerking.” Even though Richard Cohen included a definition of the word in his column, I also had to look up the word “twerk,” and I had to write that I had to look it up in order to highlight my disdain for all things associated with youth. I also had to look up “WikiLeaks.”

Richard Cohen got a lot of grief for arguing that Cyrus is responsible for rape, and for simultaneously arguing that some rape doesn’t count as rape, because of Miley Cyrus, but we should be honest with ourselves. Look, I’m a liberal guy, and I love women. As a liberal, not-racist guy, who is funny and who loves women, it’s time to admit it: Cohen is right.

Despite what Ta-Nehisi Coates says, the modern Richard Cohen is not sexist, but he is deeply troubled — about “teen culture,” about “sexual harassment” “victims,” about the gradual marginalization of what used to be acceptable, like a bit of harmless flirting with someone in a professionally subordinate position. Or sex with a 13-year-old. And it’s only natural that Cohen is troubled by all this. The world is changing so quickly, and it takes time — sometimes more than 70 years — to learn to treat women as humans and not sex objects with a responsibility to respond approvingly to advances from all men who wish to let it be known that they desire them. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering a James Bond who is sexually desirable because of his appearance and physique instead of merely by virtue of his power and class. To aging pigs like Cohen, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

Now, about the time that Cohen was accused of harassment at the Washington Post office. I don’t like what Cohen did. I hate that he created a hostile work environment and repeatedly behaved inappropriately toward a much younger editorial aide. But I can understand why Cohen felt entitled to treat her like garbage and why he thought she was wearing a uniform we all recognize — that of a female with sex parts.

And all of that was so long ago. I think it’s time for the media to forget Richard Cohen’s supposed “sexual harassment.” Let it go. We were not all so modern then, in 1998. Richard Cohen stands accused merely of being a man. A funny, not-racist, liberal, non-sexist man.

#4 Hack: NYT Columnist David Brooks

It seems a pleasant life to be a Columnist. He writes a few hundred words once, or at most twice a week. He’s paid more to read those words out loud to people at elite colleges and conferences. Naturally, people frequently want to know where a Columnist comes from and how they come to have columns.

The Columnist begins as a Young Conservative Intellectual. It is important for the Young Conservative Intellectual to be a converted radical, so he will have a story of his foolish young radicalism and of his conversion, which he will credit to William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman. He finds meaning in seriousness as a concept. He admires Edmund Burke. The Columnist will be a public intellectual, not a mere pundit. He will be wry, but never funny. Lightly ironic, but never sarcastic. If he mocks, it will always be gently.

The Columnist floats around the Conservative Media for a while, where he is guaranteed work for life so long as he remains ideologically correct, but the columnist has grander dreams. He wants everyone to admire his seriousness, and that will not happen so long as he’s writing “The Democrats Are the Truly Stupid Party” and “The Clintons Are Actually to Blame for Enron” at a conservative magazine, where those takes are conventional and expected, instead of an Ideas magazine, where those takes would be fresh and counterintuitive. At the Weekly Standard, “The way George Bush ran his baseball team shows his many impressive leadership qualities” is simple partisan cheerleading. But at the Atlantic? So the Columnist moves to a magazine of Ideas.  He writes things like, “Liberals are more materialistic than they claim to be,” and “Liberals are less tolerant than they claim to be,” and “I have read Reinhold Niebuhr.”

Ideas, for those who aren’t clear on the concept, are simply attention-grabbing assertions. The Columnist is one of a group of people who create these assertions and sell them to rich people. His first book, “I Confirmed All My Biases By Driving to a Strip Mall,” is a big hit among people who like to feel superior while reading gentle mocking of people who like to feel superior. “Some Americans enjoy NASCAR,” he writes. “Others prefer arugula and are very proud of themselves for this fact.” He treats this observation as a bold Idea. He invents a term, to mock (gently!) a very specific social class, and he freely condescends to a larger one. The Columnist will never deny being one of the arugula ones, of course, he will just position himself as that class’ foremost chronicler of its little hypocrisies. His satire wasonce silly, and Perelman-esque. It is now muted, and practically indiscernible.

In fact, you never know when the Columnist is joking, which allows him to get away with quite a lot. He writes patent falsehoods. A young reporter calls him and points them out.The Columnist asks, don’t you get jokes? He says, “Is this how you’re going to start your career?” A Columnist does not expect to be fact-checked. He interprets it as a threat, from a would-be future Columnist.

But the Columnist learns that it doesn’t matter. The Columnist’s work is fantasy, an extensive anthropology of fictitious creations, and other serious people are enchanted. For the serious, a good Idea doesn’t need supporting evidence. The Idea is its own justification. The Columnist moves from his magazine of Ideas to his rightful position as official Columnist at the last newspaper.

Of course the Columnist knows he didn’t just get this job for his Idea. The Columnist got this job because the last newspaper is liberal, or perceived as liberal, but wants very, very much to also be fair, so one or two of its columnists are conservative. But you have to be a very specific kind of conservative to fit in at the last newspaper, whose most important readers are sensitive, liberal and rich (not coincidentally, just like everyone the Columnist writes about). You have to be a “not-too” conservative, preferably an erudite one who claims his conservatism from, say, Burke. You have to support the Republican Party most of the time but be careful to concede that they’ve perhaps gone just a bit too far some of the time.

In this unjustly successful phase the Columnist will be one of the most influential people alive. Or at least “influence” will be something else he projects, alongside “seriousness.” Our Columnist may not have started intending to become The Columnist. He may have preferred to be a humorist or essayist or maybe even a simple Ideas magazine editor. But no one turns down a column, and now his time is occupied with Sunday show panels, the follow-up books, debates of world-shaping importance (conducted only with other Columnists of his stature), and Ideas Festivals. (The Columnist spends the Bush years being wrong about Iraq.)

By now the Columnist uses the word “modesty” a lot, as in, “A few decades ago, pop singers didn’t compose anthems to their own prowess; now those songs dominate the charts.” The Columnist’s take is widely praised, and he even wins an award for civility.

Soon, there is even a serious president. The president immediately takes to the Columnist. They bond over their shared habit of mentioning having read Edmund Burke. They are both of them more serious than they are liberal or conservative. The president wants very much to be the sort of president the Columnist likes, and the Columnist wants very much to be the sort of Columnist the president reads. It seems like a perfect relationship.

But the Columnist is secretly already in decline. His party no longer even bothers to put forth the pretense of pretending to take the Columnist seriously. While the Columnist is writing “modesty manifestos” the powerful people he is supposed to have a channel to are all talking Breitbart, not Burke. Of course they had always liked Rand more than Burke anyway, but they had once thought, like the president thought, that they needed to protect their alliance with the Columnist in order to preserve their legitimacy among the serious. It turns out that ignoring the columnist does no damage to the brand. No power is lost when the party spurns the Columnist. The president still talks to the Columnist, but the president no longer acts like his world resembles the Columnist’s world.

But a Columnist is secure for life. His influence can wane, and the fun can go out of his work, but he will always be taken care of. He will be asked to teach at a prestigious school. His lack of expertise in any subjects beyond meeting deadlines and the projection of seriousness won’t be a problem, of course. Projecting seriousness is a useful tool for future elites. He will call his course something like “Modesty” and while he will prepare himself for snarking from the uncivil mob he will insist that there is nothing inherently ridiculousabout assigning his own work in a class on “modesty.”

He teaches them seriousness. They teach him Macklemore. He studies his small sample of young people, unrepresentative of anything but their own class backgrounds, and as he always does he extrapolates to the whole. He uses their work for his column, and they dutifully keep up the charade that these specific young people stand in for the entire world of young people.

He gets to know these kids. And he realizes, or decides, that he hates them. They’re unjustifiably self-assured. They’ve got atrocious taste in everything, especially music and politics. They’re all unaware beneficiaries of a cushy life of grade inflation. These people are going to succeed him? This miserable bunch, these kids who’ve mistaken their performance of overachievement for actual achievement of any kind?

He hates them, and he hates, too, the people he imagines them growing into. He imagines them becoming the kinds of people he has always hated, in fact. People who’d helped to erode his status signifiers and people who mock his seriousness. People who write for Web sites. Web sites! And the people writing for Web sites have no deference for the Columnist. He has always dismissed these Web sites, but he now worries they are where new columnists will come from. Younger men, with more marketable sensibilities, adopt his patented method of Idea generation, and generate more buzz than he can now manage. People realize that the Columnist speaks to a constituency of one. Seriousness is still a valuable trait, obviously, and the Columnist will be welcome at Aspen every year for the rest of his days. He will not go hungry. But the Columnist sees this world just beside his own, where his seriousness is disrespected, even scorned. This world is the problem, he decides.

Now the Columnist decides he’ll write a column just for his constituency of one.

He writes a column for himself. The column is about those terrible kids. It is about those awful Web site writers. It is about everyone the Columnist knows professionally and socially. Of course, most of all it is about the Columnist. Because the Columnist is an expert in conflating unrelated or irrelevant elements in order to craft an Idea, he will conflate all of the things he hates into one subject, and then he will imagine that subject’s decline into irrelevance and existential dissatisfaction. (The column is self-hating, but he is still the Columnist so it is also still self-aggrandizing. The Columnist makes sure to recognize and praise his own modesty and humility, compared to the relentless assuredness of those kids and those Web site writers.)

There are still jokes. There is a joke about Macklemore, a reminder of the column he had those kids write. There are slightly exaggerated observations of the habits and foibles of the Columnist’s hyperspecific socioeconomic and regional milieu, of the sort he’s always made. Indeed, the central joke is very nearly one he’s already made. But the Columnist is no longer lightly ribbing. The Columnist is trying to inflict damage. But no one really understands why, or whom the column is directed at.

Of course, the column that the Columnist wrote for himself, that makes no sense to others, gets buzz. The Web site writers tweet about it on their iPad Airs and the Ideas magazine writers discuss it and drive traffic to it. The Columnist takes no pleasure in the buzz. Death approaches. But until it arrives, no one will ever take away the Columnist’s column.

#3 Media Hack: BuzzFeed's Benny Johnson

The amazing true story of the worst person at BuzzFeed

This is Benny Johnson

Via Feedbuzz

He’s super good at tweeting!

(Again, via FeedBuzz.)

Here’s what he made himself for dinner on Martin Luther King Day

(Once more, via FeedBuzz. It’s almost as if this post relies heavily on aggregation already performed by others!)

Benny works for a website called Buzzfeed



Buzzfeed refined a style of web writing that at this point is scarcely web “writing.” It is a sort of one-page scrolling picture book with some bits that move. Buzzfeed uses this form primarily to create harmless diversions, but also sometimes to “report” news!


This tone or style is effectively the logical end point of the faux-casual “blog” voice and I deeply regret my small part in its spread



Some of the people who produce these things at Buzzfeed make picture-stories you could describe as funny, or even witty



Some of them just copy and paste content from elsewhere, like a message board called Reddit, or IMDB. This used to be called plagiarism!



Is it still plagiarism when no one at either end of the act is using their grown-up words anymore?


I don’t know! YOLO!!



Back to Benny. He used to work for a website called The Blaze



The Blaze was started by a guy named Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck is a “demagogue,” which is kind of like a “Doge” except intensely nationalistic and designed to foment an in-group’s hatred for and paranoid fear of various out-groups.



Then Benny went to work for BuzzFeed because they wanted to hire some conservatives [UPDATE: Benny went to work for BuzzFeed because "Benny is a great native talent of the social web with politics in his blood" who will "make the sort of smart, entertaining, and compelling political content people want to share." I regret the error.]



In July 2013, Johnson “wrote” a Buzzfeed post headlined “The Story of Egypt’s Revolution in ‘Jurassic Park’ Gifs.” And that’s exactly what it was.



Basically every decent person agreed that this had crossed some kind of line. It was not cute anymore!



The critics said: “The deaths of hundreds of Egyptians—including more than 40 allegedly peaceful protestors who were shot just yesterday—metaphorically reenacted via computer-generated dinosaur maulings.” Ouch!

At this point his bosses were probably like



But then they saw the traffic and they were like



And Johnson was like



But I bet many of the people who work with Johnson, most of whom aren’t moral cretins, are like



Benny also once wrote a thing about how Cory Booker had an innocuous exchange with a sex worker on Twitter. It wasn’t as vile as the Egypt post but it was equally contemptuous of the reader/viewer/clicker, relying heavily on childish innuendo, salacious nude photos, and the unsupported implication of some sort of impropriety on Booker’s part. Everyone who read it was like


“Ronald Reagan was the presidential master of YOLO.” — an adult with a prestigious job in journalism

 #2  Media Hacks: Authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

A sleek black town car dropped off its passenger and sped off into the brisk, sun-drenched, bone-cold autumn afternoon. It was November 6, 2012, and Mark Halperin was headed to John Heilemann’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn, loft to coordinate and strategize the writing of their follow-up to their surprise smash hit book, “Game Change.” “Game Change” had changed the game for political reporting. The duo knew they’d need to pull another game-changer out of their collective hat yet again. They’d need a new central metaphor. And, they feared, a better election.

A day earlier, President Barack Obama had won reelection (Good, Obama thought), beating gaffe-prone former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (That’s a real shame, thought Romney), and now the “Game Change” boys would have to write a book about it. But the campaign had been predictable. Both candidates were already known quantities and each had insisted on keeping the game the way it was. Even the voters had decided to stick with the existing game.

“Well,” Heilemann asked Halperin, “what will we call the book?” Halperin was dumbfounded and blindsided. I thought we were going to call it “Game Change 2,” he said. You mean we have to come up with another phrase? The fate of the book, and the fates of both men’s careers, depended on this decision. The wrong title could sink the whole project. Bookstores might all go out of business. Literacy rates could plummet to zero. The two might literally die. Everything depended on getting the title of the book right, Halperin knew.

Suddenly, he remembered something: A sandwich, with chicken instead of bread. He had seen an ad for it on MSNBC not long ago. “John, I’ve got it. Double down. We’ll call it ‘Game Change 2: Doubling Down on Game-Changing.’”

Heilemann hated it. It doesn’t make any sense, he said. “Double down” means a specific thing, to double a blackjack bet and take another card. Figuratively it means “take a risk.” Weren’t both campaigns incredibly cautious and allergic to risk? Didn’t political reporters like us create an environment in which every single dumb thing anyone even tangentially connected to any campaign said became a four-day-long “gaffe” story, forcing everyone involved to make the entire presidential race even more of a series of rehearsed and scripted pseudo-events than it already had been?

Halperin doubled down. What game, in the end, had anyone actually changed in “Game Change”? He won out. But there’d be one final compromise: The book would be called “Double Down: Game Change 2012.” They had a name. Now, they just needed to come up with some good nicknames for all the candidates.

* * *

On a cold, sunless night on December 11, in a booth at an Upper West Side diner, the Game Changers game-planned. The book wouldn’t necessarily be harder to write. Heilemann knew that neither of them was much of a prose stylist, and all they really had to do was write down what they’d persuaded people to tell them, not explain what it meant. Heilemann knew also that they wouldn’t have much trouble getting people to talk either, because everyone knew if you didn’t talk to them, you might end up under the bus alongside the McCain strategists who weren’t Steve Schmidt. (If we don’t put quotation marks around quotes we can attribute them to people without having to be super careful about getting them right. Works for Woodward.) Heilemann knew all of that, and he knew that if it came down to it they could double down on their best trick, naming the speakers of off-the-record quotes, and playing hardball if they balked. But he also knew that unless there was going to be a surprise recount naming Sarah Palin the write-in winner of the 2012 presidential election, they didn’t have a movie.

Halperin wasn’t as worried. They had a great Republican primary to fall back on. They had Michele Bachmann. That’s a good, juicy part. Play up the crazy stuff. Everyone likes a crazy broad. Remember Liz Edwards? Boy, we did a number on her. That was great. I bet someone will say some real mean stuff about Callista this time, don’t you think?

But Heilemann knew that the general election provided thin gruel. Romney’s campaign had been feckless but not a disaster. Obama’s worst misstep was one sleepy debate performance. The result could’ve been predicted a year in advance. In fact, some people had predicted it a year in advance, with some nonsense about economic trends and approval ratings.

Halperin didn’t buy it. It all came down to gaffes, flubs, game changes and arguments between low-level staffers about ads that would run in a few media markets four months before the election. Though even he had to admit that the game had changed. Twitter was doubling down on every gaffe. And there was the freak show. Him and John had a comfortable rapport, and a lucrative partnership. But they knew it was precarious. If they didn’t get it right again, the second time, there might not be movie rights to sell the next time, in 2016.

“I still can’t fucking believe that uptight shitheel Romney didn’t pick Christie,” Heilemann shouted, pounding his fist down on the table for emphasis. “Motherfucker!” He woulda been “Double Down’s” Palin, Heilmann said. We could’ve gotten John Goodman to play him. We’ll be lucky to get Josh Radnor for Ryan. No one’s gonna win a Golden Globe for playing Ann Romney!

Halperin did his best at damage control. That’s not our problem. It’s Danny Strong’s. Twenty-five percent of “Game Change’s” running-time was “SNL” sketches played on TVs, and he based the rest of the movie on a book that we didn’t even write. He’ll find a way to pad it. Heilemann wasn’t completely satisfied, but he knew he already had all the money and they would not take it away from him if the movie turned out terrible.

There’s only one thing we can do, Halperin said. It’s our only choice, and it’s the best choice. We’re going to double down.

* * *

30 Rock was buzzing on July 16, 2013. Outside it was sweltering and sweat-drenched, but in the “Morning Joe” green room the temperature was a refreshing 60 degrees Fahrenheit, as it always was before showtime, to keep the famously cold-blooded but hot-tempered alien lizard person Scarborough in a sluggish semi-torpor before the lights of the studio warmed him up enough to drive the Washington conversation.

Halperin barely noticed the chill. The book had hit him like a 600 ton shitpile of bricks. Maybe Heilemann was happy being a mere magazine writer, famous to intellectuals and eggheads, but Halperin had a reputation for ubiquity and access to protect, and he was always looking over his shoulder at Mike Allen. I’M BARELY FUCKING IN “THIS TOWN,” JOHN, he thought. Four mentions, and most of them are about how the Obamas ignore me. Allen’s in every goddamn chapter!

A little more than 200 miles away, in America’s marbled capital, Mike Allen was sitting down to breakfast. I require food, he thought. I will ingest food and my body will convert it into energy so I can write POLITICO PLAYBOOK. PLAYBOOK is my must-read briefing on what’s driving the day in Washington. His phone went off. Another text from VandeHei. “IDEA: Deep dive on grand bargain. What do u think?” Allen processed the information as his body continued digesting. I am a famous journalist, he thought. My job is to write news.

Back at the other end of the Acela corridor, Heilemann was on the phone with his publishers. This index was a mess. It only listed five of the seven instances of Romney gaffes he and Mark had painstakingly documented. “Ann drives a couple Cadillacs” and “some of my best friends are NASCAR owners” are two separate gaffes, for chrissake. This is basic stuff. He considered calling Halperin, but decided against it. “I hate that piece of shit Mark Halperin,” he said.


Halperin was relieved. “Double Down” had just come out, and lots of people were writing articles about it. The two of them had gone on TV, too, to talk about the book. We did it, he thought. We wrote another book. It was chilly in Midtown Manhattan, but not too chilly, basically sweater weather. Halperin and Heilemann were riding high, but there was going to be another presidential election in a few years. If they wanted to continue getting paid millions of dollars for campaign books, they only had one choice. They’d have to double down on game changing.

#1 Media Hack: Politico's Mike Allen

PAYOLA-BOOK: No professional blowback for sponsor-fluffing Mike Allen — LEIBO on ALLEN: ‘enabler’ — Business lobby agenda pushed daily — “Beyond parody” — Something about JOE SCARBOROUGH for some reason

EXCLUSIVE — “Mike Allen is the biggest hack in the country, by Alex Pareene:“Mike Allen, Politico’s superstar email newsletter author, has never been anyone’s idea of a hard-charging, truth-to-power journalist, but as he’s built PLAYBOOK into an elite Washington institution, he’s become effectively indistinguishable from a paid advocate for business interests. … He promotes causes favored by wealthy corporate executives, promotes the nonprofits and PACs and interest groups those executives fund, and promotes the politicians who agree with the corporate agenda. And he does all of this each day in the guise of a simple emailed tipsheet of links to major political news stories.

… “For Allen, a source is indistinguishable from a friend and both are indistinguishable from sponsors. The result is a daily exercise in favor-trading carried out by people using him as a conduit and people using him as an unpaid spokesman.”

TOP TALKER: “Politico’s Mike Allen, Native Advertising Pioneer,” by Erik Wemple: “Politico’s archives yield plenty of examples of Allen going to bat for the site’s advertisers. Turning up examples of hard-nosed pieces on these companies and special interests is a more complicated undertaking….As for outright negative stuff on these organizations, that tends to be harder to dig up. We spent hours searching for such examples and even deployed an outside researcher for further bandwidth; we also asked Politico to send examples wherein Allen takes a harsh view of their agenda. They declined.”

“…So enticing is the prospect of dumping an announcement in the loving hands of Mike Allen that many PR types around town have gone around beat reporters at Politico in search of a little plug in ‘Playbook’ … Notes one former staffer via e-mail: ‘Reporters are sometimes annoyed to find scooplets from their beats at the top of Playbook. Sources give stuff to Mike Allen because they know he’ll reach a huge audience, usually more people than the beat reporters would reach with their own stories. And they know he’ll play it totally straight, not letting any dissenting voices muddy up whatever PR the source is trying to get out.’”

A QUOTE OF A HUGE PORTION OF ANOTHER OUTLET’S ARTICLE PASTED INTO AN EMAIL NEWSLETTER UNDER THE ASSUMPTION THAT READERS WON’T FOLLOW THE LINK AS THEY WILL BE PRETTY SURE THEY GOT THE GIST OF IT: “Now, one possible defense of Allen is that what appears to be simple payola is actually a more sociologically complex phenomenon. Allen, as Wemple reports, has personal friendships with many of his sponsors, uses them as sources, and generally shares their point of view on most issues even while failing to acknowledge he has a point of view at all. This is less a defense than a concession that Allen is so hopelessly embedded within the Establishment that he can’t cover it in a remotely fair way.

“…[Jim] VandeHei’s final defense verges on parody: Allen, he argues, has “no business interest” in giving favorable treatment to advertisers. There is the fact that advertisers pay him $35,000 a week, or up to $1.8 million a year. If those clients realize that their paid advertisements also buy them favorable coverage in Playbook, that would make them dramatically more interested in paying Allen’s exorbitant rates.

“…[POLITICO'S] strategy of pretending the payola allegations don’t exist has worked brilliantly, from a business perspective. Given the reality that Politico has suffered little to no reputation damage from the scandal, it seems like selling favorable coverage, whatever the ethical merits, is in fact a brilliant business strategy.”

PLAYBOOK FACTS OF LIFE: An intern could do this job. (If you plan to hire an intern to do this job, please pay them, though you needn’t pay them as much as POLITICO pays Mike Allen.) One randomly selected edition of POLITICO PLAYBOOK is nearly 3,400 words long. Fewer than 500 of its words were actually written by Mike Allen. The rest is lengthy quotes of other journalists’ articles, press releases and ads. There’s nothing special about this one in particular; PLAYBOOK often features even less original Allen writing.

–CHASER: POLITICO media reporter Dylan Byers gets snotty with the Huffington Post over aggregation.

–Some of the words Allen does commonly write: “SPORTS BLINK” … “BUSINESS BLINK” … “REUTERS” … “SCARBOROUGH” … “DRIVING THE CONVERSATION.”

HOW THE SAUSAGE GETS MADE — READ A FLACK QUOTED IN A NEWS STORY AND THEN READ THE FLACK’S FULL, UNEDITED STATEMENT IN PLAYBOOK — “GOP group money down, hints at donor uncertainty,” AP’s Thomas Beaumont and Steve Peoples: “‘Unlike previous cycles, we won’t be sending good money after substandard candidates with weak campaigns,’ said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the conservative super political action committee American Crossroads.”


–BEHIND THE SCENES: The flack sent Allen the same quote he sent the AP reporters because he knew Allen would share the entire thing, including the self-serving parts that the AP reporters omitted because they don’t consider passing along spin from a paid spokesman to be part of their jobs as reporters.

TO TELL YOUR KIDS: Mike Allen is a silly man who lives in a secret den in a funny little town called Washington. His job is to tell all the other silly men that they are very, very important and strong.

THE JUICE — JOE SCARBOROUGH inexplicably mentioned in PLAYBOOK constantly.

MIKE ALLEN’S PLAYBOOK, 9/13/13 — “FIRST LOOK AT JOE SCARBOROUGH’S NEW BOOK.” “EXCLUSIVE – JOE SCARBOROUGH ON HOW THE GOP CAN WIN IN 2016: The ‘Morning Joe’ host’s new book, ‘The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics–and Can Again,’ will be published Nov. 12 by Random House, and is edited by JON MEACHAM. The buzz among GOP insiders is that ‘The Right Path’ has the potential to galvanize conservatives in the way Barry Goldwater’s ‘Conscience of a Conservative’ did half a century ago — especially conservatives ready to return to the winning ways of Ronald Reagan, who is on the cover, shown striding down the White House colonnade … See the cover ($16.69 Amazon preorder; $10.99 on Kindle).”

MIKE ALLEN’s PLAYBOOK, 4/10/13: MIKE ALLEN writes 1,285-word party report for JOE SCARBOROUGH’s birthday — “JOE SCARBOROUGH is surprised in D.C. on his 50th: pics, toasts, guest list, menu”– “–SPOTTED: Marc Adelman, Yousef Al Otaiba and Abeer Al Otaiba, Mike Allen, Adrienne Arsht, TJ Asprea and Monica, Melody Barnes, Mike Barnicle, Tim Barnicle (sophomore at Georgetown), Sen. John Barrasso, Mika Brzezinski, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Rep. Vern Buchanan, Louis Burgdorf, David Campbell and Rachel Cacioppo Campbell, Jonathan Capehart and Nick Schmit, Margaret Carlson, Steve Clemons, Timothy Coe, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen, Clayton Collins, Ann Edelberg, Zeke Emanuel, Jeff Fager, Anne Finucane, Willie Geist, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Josh Green, David Gregory and Beth Wilkinson, Phil Griffin, Richard Haass, Jane Harman, Jane Heller and Bryn Rose, Gary Hopkins, Kelly Horton and T. Cody, Al Hunt, Mary Kaye Huntsman, Walter Isaacson, Joe Januszewski and Ashley Januszewski, Valerie Jarrett, Sen. Tim Kaine, Kim Kingsley, Derrick Kitts, Alex Korson, former Rep. Steve Largent, Mark Leibovich, Chris Licht, Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Claire McCaskill, Mark McKinnon, Mark McLaughlin and Mindy, Jon Meacham, Collier Merrill, Richard Mintz, …

“… Andrea Mitchell, Ramy Mansour, Kelly O’Donnell and David Ake, Lawrence O’Donnell, Dave Pawlak and Anita, Steve Rattner and Maureen White, Julia Reed, Ed Rendell, Eugene Robinson, Tom Rogers, Lisa Roper, Luke Russert and Maureen Orth, Adriana Sahliyeh, Rep. Matt Salmon, Katie Sansom, Rich Santo and Kristin, Andrew Scarborough, George Scarborough, Joey Scarborough, Susan Scarborough with Kate and Jack, Palmer Scarritt and Ginny Scarritt, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Dan Senor, Marty Sherman, Lauren Skowronski, Jamie Smith, Michelle Smith and Andrew Oshrin, Simeon Spencer, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Sam Stein and Jessica Leinwand, Amy Little Thomas, Katherine Thomson, Sen. John Thune and daughter Brittany Thune, Jon Tower, Dan Tully and Tim White, Jim VandeHei, Nicolle Wallace, Carolyn Ward, Rep. Maxine Waters, Bob Woodward, Mort Zuckerman and more.”

FLASHBACK — MIKE ALLEN’s PLAYBOOK, 4/9/13 — PLAYBOOK runs nearly 500 word excerpt of glowing AP profile of Scarborough. ALLEN: “‘Morning’ Joe Scarborough is ’36′”

TRANSLATION: Allen and Scarborough have a symbiotic relationship in which Allen indulges Scarborough’s need to feel powerful, influential and connected, in return for Scarborough allowing Allen to feel that he is America’s foremost chronicler of the doings of the powerful, influential and connected.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: A hypothetical but realistic example of how PLAYBOOK will in the near future hype a column or article advancing the views of a specific business interest: “Officials, lawmakers and CEOs all agree that fracking is the key to unleashing the economy and also very safe and environmentally friendly. … Midway through what began as a description of the viewpoints of CEOs and unnamed officials I will drop the pretense that I don’t also share this view. Then I’ll quote a spokesman or even an executive from a lobbying group that represents energy companies. … Following that, I’ll print 95 percent of a press release from that group, and then I’ll promote a forthcoming event or campaign organized by that group. … A bit later, PLAYBOOK will feature some text that looks like this”:

***A special message from The American Energy Roundtable. America is in the midst of an energy renaissance, one with absolutely no long-term environmental consequences and one that will assuredly last forever. Here at the American Energy Roundtable, we’re committed to investing in the future, and there is absolutely nothing vaguely sinister about our calculatedly innocuous name.***

PLAYBOOK MINDMELD: Even the seemingly harmless daily list of birthdays is an impressive extension of the Playbook brand identity. The list both enhances the sense of clubby insularity that allows each Playbook insider to feel like a true “insider,” and is yet another means of currying favor with certain people. Allen can both suck up to sources by recognizing their birthdays and allow his contacts to curry favor with one another through the use of the “hat tipped” birthday announcement.

SPORTS BLINK — FAMED POLITICAL TIPSHEET PLAYBOOK INCLUDES STRANGE NUGGETS OF STALE SPORTS NEWS, LIKE THE SCORE OF ONE COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME PLAYED YESTERDAY, NEAR END OF MOST DAY’S EDITIONS. This is perhaps an effort on the part of the author, MIKE ALLEN, to present himself as a normal human with normal human interests, engaged in casual interaction and communication with other well-socialized adult professionals.


QUOTE OF THE DAY “That’s what happens when you have Grampa Newt! You get to go to a Trident submarine!” — Mike Allen