Alex Pareene's Super Hack List: Politico, The Washington Post, Newsweek
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This year, my annual list of the worst of political media highlights not just individuals, but the institutions that enable those individuals. The 2012 Hack List will be counting down the 10 media outlets that are hurting America over the next two days — stay tuned! (Previous Hack List entries here, here and here.)
Surprise! It’s Politico.
I have written tens of thousands of words on what, precisely, is wrong with Politico. But I can put the case much more simply here: It’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei.
VandeHei is the co-founder of Politico, and Allen is the organization’s biggest star. Each morning Allen collects a bunch of links to day-old news stories and emails them to thousands of people, and for this he is paid a fortune. VandeHei is the guy who gives Politico its obnoxious, pseudo-macho ethos, with the shouty memos and nonsense about “metabolism.” Allen exemplifies the sort of political journalist who thinks his job is faithfully reporting what mendacious professional liars tell him, while also usually protecting their identities. VandeHei thinks neutrality requires occupying a space precisely between Breitbart and the Huffington Post. Neither would probably understand if you tried to explain to them that supporting whatever any CEO says or effectively endorsing Erskine Bowles for president is actually a violation of political “neutrality.”
When you see a joint Allen-VandeHei byline, you can safely expect the worst. When fellow Politico big shots John Harris and Jonathan Martin write a piece, they report on politics. When Allen and VandeHei write, they craft narrative. If the narrative bears no little relation to reality, or is simply self-serving spin from a professional political operative, no matter: Now the narrative is “out there,” because Politico is proud of its ability to create its own buzz and then report on that buzz.
Allen and VandeHei’s 2012 campaign was a wild roller-coaster ride of shifting narratives, starring campaign heroes and goats who occasionally switched from one role to the other in the space of a few weeks.
On Sept. 11, 2012, Romney was in deep trouble. GOP strategists were alarmed at Mitt Romney’s failure to mention the troops at the Republican Convention. The omission was “‘felony stupid,’ raising ‘a leadership issue, a spine issue’ for Romney.” And Romney was to blame, because unnamed advisers had warned him not to concede national security to Obama.
On Sept. 16, the Romney campaign was in disarray and everything was the fault of strategist Stuart Stevens. The next day, Allen and VandeHei revealed that Stuart Stevens was going to rescue the Romney campaign by talking about the Middle East and getting specific on policy.
On Sept. 19, in a story that literally said the Sept. 16 story “doesn’t matter,” Allen and VandeHei revealed that the Romney campaign’s rescue plan would actually be “more Mitt,” and that more “personal appearances” from Romney would right the ship. On Sept. 28, Allen and VandeHei revealed that the real problem with the Romney campaign was Romney himself, because Romney was a “lousy candidate.” (You’re off the hook, Stuart Stevens.)
Thankfully, by Oct. 4, Mitt Romney was a good candidate again, because he had “transformed himself” into one during the debate. On Oct. 9, it turned out that the Romney family, led by Tagg, had seized control of the campaign from Stuart Stevens, who was the villain again. Once they “let Mitt be Mitt,” things began to turn around.
Finally, on Nov. 4, Allen and VandeHei reported that if Romney were to lose, it would be because there aren’t enough white people anymore, and not because of Stuart Stevens’ decision to focus on the economy, Romney’s personal lack of charisma, or the campaign’s failure to allow the uncharismatic lousy candidate to be himself.