Tag Archives: Mike Allen

Timmy, The Bloggers And The Background, Which Is Apparently A Portrait Of Robert Rubin

Alex Tabarrok:

Yesterday, Tyler, myself and a handful of other economics bloggers had a chance to discuss the economy with Treasury Secretary Geithner and other treasury officials. Here are a few random notes.

There was deep skepticism about the financial industry and about reform from some of the bloggers. More let’s say “radical” approaches such as Treasury taking an equity stake in underwater homes or giving everyone a guaranteed income were brought up. I was surprised to find myself on the side of the more conservative Treasury officials who cogently argued that such reforms were neither politically viable nor likely to work.  Treasury gave a good argument that reform had been deep and meaningful.

A few good lines from a senior treasury official as I recall the gist:

  • “Markets believe we can borrow. The public doesn’t. We need both to move forward on the fiscal front.”
  • “Businesses are investing in a way that shows more confidence than they are talking.” (graph here, see the last year or so AT)

There was a recognition that the Fed could do “dramatic” things but a sense that the theory here was uncertain and untested.

The best question of the day came from Tyler. The discussion was on the financial reform bill and how it changed the incentives of players in the financial industry by creating more risk for them. Tyler interrupted with “What I really want to know is how your incentives have been changed! What is to say that next time the decision will not be made to again bailout the bondholders?”

Felix Salmon:

Treasury’s blogger meeting on Monday has been covered by quite a lot of the participants — see Lounsbury, Tabarrok, and Smith.

On Wednesday, there was another meeting, this time with professional, salaried bloggers, with a decidedly center-left bias. (Tim Fernholz, Mike Allen, Derek Thompson, Shahien Nasiripour, Nick Baumann, Ezra Klein, me. Matt Yglesias was literally left out in the rain, unable to get past Treasury security.)

I half understand why Treasury makes the distinction between the two types of bloggers, but Ezra and I both felt a little jealous that we had to compete with Mike Allen asking about politics when we could have listened to a detailed and wonky discussion between Steve Waldman and Tim Geithner on the subject of bailout incentives.

The discussion was all held on deep background, so I can’t quote anybody. I can tell you that Geithner looked healthier than the past couple of times I’ve seen him: I daresay he’s actually getting some sleep these days, which has got to be a good thing. I also learned a fair amount about how Treasury views the world.

The big picture, at least as I grokked it, is that although the recovery started off stronger than Treasury had hoped, the broad economy is still in a pretty weak position. The Fed is doing its part to try to keep a certain amount of momentum going, but fiscal policy is harder, because it needs the cooperation of Congress. And it’s far from clear what kind of fiscal legislation can be passed at this point.

On housing, the main message from the big conference on Fannie and Freddie is that there’s a broad-based consensus, Rick Santelli rants notwithstanding, that large-scale government participation in the housing market is necessary to prevent further house-price declines. And yes, Treasury would very much like to make sure that house prices don’t fall any more than they have already. There’s no Bush-style policy of trying to maximize homeownership, or anything like that, and indeed Treasury now seems pretty resigned to the fact that its much-vaunted loan-modification program is going to have only a pretty marginal effect, doing more to delay foreclosures than to prevent them. But the very powerful government guarantee on Frannie’s bonds is here to stay, you won’t be surprised to hear. And even delaying foreclosures can be a good thing if it helps to give the broader economy a bit of time to recover.

Naked Capitalism:

Readers may wonder why I haven’t written about my visit on Monday to the Treasury, but truth be told, I headed out afterward with Mike Konczal and Steve Waldman to get a drink, and we all looked at each other quizzically. I said something along the lines of “I’m not certain there is anything to write about,” and they nodded in agreement. I had less than a half page of notes.

That isn’t to say we didn’t spend nearly 2 1/2 hours in a high-ceilinged conference room, and that we didn’t engage with Treasury officials, including Timothy Geithner, in what looked like conversation. But the assumptions of both sides re process as well as substance were so far apart that it often felt like we were talking past each other.

One part of the dynamic was the home court advantage the Treasury enjoys. This is their drill, their offices, they no doubt used their spiel on others and have it pretty well debugged, and more important, they play well off each other (they give the impression of having good rapport with each other; there was some banter on their side). So they have message discipline and stay unified and still manage to look relaxed and informal. By contrast, we seven bloggers (the others were Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, Phil Davis, and John Lounsbury) were on hold in the very large corridor till the conference room cleared up, which meant we didn’t even have the chance to ask each other, “And what do you want to ask about?” Our interests were likely to be (and were) somewhat divergent, but it would have been nice to know to what degree.

Despite our heterogeniety, we all took a skeptical posture towards the Treasury team. One has to think they anticipate that, which then begs the question of what they expect to accomplish with these meetings. We aren’t journalists, so the access card does not work; the infrequency and format of these sessions means they don’t build personal rapport (and there are good reasons why not; from our end, it costs time and money to go to DC; from their end, we aren’t important enough to warrant more frequent contact).

So they may have other motivations, but a safe assumption is that they regard this as marketing, and a famous cliche is “50% of what I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which 50%.” We probably look like part of the wasted 50%, but they can’t be certain, and the costs to them of having this sort of meeting are low, so they might as well keep the experiment going.

Mike Allen at Politico:

ADMINISTRATION MINDMELD: The virtue of action on Social Security is that it demonstrates the ability to begin to affect the long-run deficits. Social Security isn’t the biggest contributor to the problem – that’s still health-care costs. But ti could help a little bit, buy time, and strengthens the odds of a political consensus behind other spending cuts or tax increases. Most importantly, it would establish more CREDIBILITY with the MARKETS. The mood of the world at the moment (slightly excessive, from the administration’s point of view) is that if you don’t do anything with spending cuts, it doesn’t get you credibility.

Tim Fernholz at Tapped on Allen:

Sure makes it seem like the administration wants to cut Social Security, doesn’t it? By chance, I was at the same deep-background briefing where Allen had his “mindmeld,” and I have to say, I don’t think he’s got it right. After reviewing my notes and a recording of the conversation, here’s my take. (The rules for this conversation were no direct quotes and no identifying the senior administration official in question.)

Allen references a part of the conversation that concerned the Deficit Commission and what the official might know about its agenda. The official believed that the largest consensus was forming around an undefined plan to support the long-term solvency of Social Security and was discussing why that hypothetical plan might help bolster political will for other deficit-reduction ideas. The official would note that Social Security is already solvent for decades.

The most important omission from Allen’s item is that the official concluded the conversation by noting that Social Security is not a generous benefit compared to other public pensions around the world and that cutting benefits, even years in advance, would be difficult to justify. More symbolically, Allen doesn’t mention that the official cited Paul Krugman when talking about Social Security’s contributions to the deficit. Finally, the reason the administration official was interested in credibility before the markets is so the government could borrow more money for temporary fiscal stimulus.

Brad DeLong

Matthew Yglesias on Allen:

Brad DeLong glosses this as part of why “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Politico.” And certainly it is a case study in why you can’t go run and panic after reading a thinly sourced item in a traffic-hungry publication. But part of the issue here, it seems to me, is that DC officialdom ought to realize that its obsession with off the recordy-ness has some serious downsides. Treasury did two meetings this week, one that was with professional blogger types and one that was more with professional economists who also blog, and most of the attendees seem to have come away quite impressed. If that’s the case, wouldn’t people able to listen to a recording of the full session likely also be impressed? And wouldn’t it be easier to clear up misconceptions that Allen’s writeup may have created?

Structural shifts in the media industry away from the “three TV networks and a bunch of local newspaper monopolies” model have shifted the balance of power away from journalists and toward flacks. Consequently, if people want to hold off the record briefings with “senior officials” plenty of writers are going to show up. But merely because people can get away with that kind of thing doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.

Ezra Klein:

There’s been some meta-discussion over a recent meeting between reporters, bloggers, pundits and Treasury officials. The meeting existed under the worst of all media rules: Background.

On-the-record is, well, on the record. Somebody tells me something and I tell you. Off-the-record is just the opposite: Somebody tells me something and I can’t tell you that I was told this. I can be informed by it, but no one knows how I got the information. The disadvantages of this are obvious. But the advantage is a much more honest and free-flowing conversation.

Background has neither the transparency of being on-the-record or the freedom of being off-the-record. It means I can tell you that someone told me this (“a senior Treasury official”). I really don’t understand why people use it.

But use it they do, and all the time. My favorite background offer from this administration came in an e-mail the night before HealthCare.gov launched. It was a lot of standard information on the new site that I could attribute to an “administration official” if I so chose. Why they wanted anonymity to say things like “HealthCare.gov is a new, easy to use website that helps consumers take control of their health care and make the choices that are right for them by putting the power of information at their fingertips,” I’ll never know. Was Gibbs seriously going to chew someone out for going on-the-record with that?

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

On Monday I took part in a blogger meeting with several members of the Treasury Department. Alex Tabarrok has a writeup, as does Yves Smith and John Lounsbury has an extensive one as well.

First off, here’s a picture of me with Robert Rubin’s portrait:

Second, have you ever seen Miracle on 34th Street? Remember at the end when that guy legally is Santa Claus because he has all that mail delivered to him? I felt a little like that seeing “Mike Konczal, Rortybomb” on paper that had Treasury’s seal:

Heh.

It was a pretty casual meet and greet. There weren’t any presentations, nothing to be sold on. We went to questions immediately. Geithner is very smart and personable, and it was very useful to chat with Treasury officials on background over the strengths and weaknesses of the financial reform bill.

[…]

HAMP

– They are sticking by HAMP. The narrative seemed to change from helping homeowners to spacing out the foreclosures. I asked them to repeat it, because the idea that billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to smooth out foreclosures for banks struck me as new narrative – it’s explicitly extend-and-pretend, and also fairly cynical.

– There was talk about how fiscal policy can’t move through Congress. I asked them about only 0.5% of HAMP being spent and how that could be used without Congress’ permission. Before I suggested that the remainder of the $50bn be divided into two funds, the Digging Holes Across States (DHAS) fund and the Filling Holes Across States (FHAS) fund, two far more socially productive means of spending the HAMP money than what is currently being done with it, I was told that the entire $50bn is expected to be spent by the time the program is over. I didn’t believe it; we will see.

– Overall, there seemed to be a sense of “we are done here” from the meeting. Maybe it was the fact that it is August, the informal manner of the meeting and a news cycle is driven by insane things, but there was a sense with the financial reform bill passed, deadlock in Congress and a Federal Reserve tip-toeing around its mandate things were going to slow down and options are more or less removed from the table. Which is a very scary thought with the economy the way it is.

Atrios:

Really fucking unbelievable. As I think I said to Mike at Netroots Nation, if HAMP is actually a program designed to boost the housing market and funnel money several billion more dollars to banks, it’s also a really fucking horrible and stupid and inefficient way to do that even without the “screwing people over” part.

Shahien Nasiripour at Huffington Post

EARLIER: Meet The Financial Bloggers, Timmy

Timmy Meets With Even More Bloggers

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The Hammer Is Dropped

Josh Gerstein and Mike Allen at Politico:

After almost six years of investigation, the Justice Department has decided not to bring corruption charges against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay over his involvement with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other ethics issues, DeLay and his attorneys said Monday.

“I always knew this day would come. My only hope was that it would come much sooner than the six years we’ve been doing this,” DeLay said Monday during a conference call with reporters. “While I will never understand why it took so long for the Justice Department to conclude that I was innocent, I am nevertheless pleased that they have made their determination.”

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Ryan J. Reilly at Talking Points Memo:

The Justice Department notified DeLay’s lead attorney, McGuireWoods Chairman Richard Cullen, about the decision last week, the lawyer said.

“The federal investigation of Tom DeLay is over and there will be no charges,” Cullen told Politico. “This is the so-called Abramoff investigation run by the Public Integrity section of DOJ. There have been a series of convictions and guilty pleas since 2005.”

Cullen said that DeLay “voluntarily produced to the prosecutors over 1,000 emails and documents from the DeLay office dating back to 1997. Several members of Congress objected to producing official government records under Speech or Debate Clause concerns,” Cullen said.

“DeLay took the opposite position, ordering all his staff to answer all questions. He turned over more than 1,000 documents, and several of his aides gave interviews and grand jury testimony.”

Reached by TPMMuckraker, Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment.

Peter Stone at The Daily Beast:

From the start of the scandal, when Abramoff’s influence-peddling network was exposed in numerous stories in the national press, DeLay’s role, and especially that of his key aides, in facilitating Abramoff’s rise to power was crucial.

DeLay’s office often let Abramoff’s clients and would-be clients, Indian-owned casinos and the impoverished Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, know that if they wanted access to the Texas Republican they needed to go through Abramoff, which meant one thing: Hire him for his big fees.

While he served in Congress, DeLay took three lavish junkets paid for by Abramoff’s clients to Scotland, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Russia. These trips helped Abramoff cement his image and business: DeLay famously returned to Washington in early 1998 from the Marianas, where he golfed with Abramoff, and spearheaded successful efforts to block efforts to extend the U.S. minimum wage laws to the island’s poorly paid immigrant garment workers. And DeLay extolled the Marianas’ lack of regulation as a “perfect petri dish of capitalism.”

Abramoff cultivated his ties with DeLay not only through these trips, but also through his stellar fundraising for the Texan’s campaigns, political action committee, and favorite charities. The close links between Abramoff, aka “Casino Jack,” and DeLay, aka “the Hammer,” seemed symbiotic ones to some former GOP leadership aides who knew both men well. “Jack raised money for the pet projects of DeLay and took care of his top staff,” one ex-Capitol Hill aide told me a few years ago. “In turn they granted him tremendous access and allowed Abramoff to freely trade on DeLay’s name.”

Little wonder that DeLay was in a gloating mood on Monday when he held a phone-in press conference with reporters and declared he was “exonerated.” DeLay, who publicly announced he was going to resign from Congress not long after Rudy pleaded guilty, criticized the federal investigation as an example of the “criminalization of politics and the politics of personal destruction…”

It was the old Tom DeLay in full attack and spin mode, showing off the conservative political footwork he famously parlayed into a short-lived performance on Dancing With the Stars.

He even boasted that “the case was so weak that I was never interviewed by the investigators.”

Some lawyers familiar with the Abramoff scandal told me they think the Justice Department’s failure at least to interview DeLay, after all the time and energy it put into the probe, seems a bit odd. Even DeLay’s lead attorney, Richard Cullen, who publicly stressed how much information DeLay gave the department, told me that “we most likely would have granted the request” if DeLay had been asked for an interview.

Even if the probe into DeLay was reaching a dead end, some white-collar attorneys point out, the Justice Department should have interviewed him. “You don’t know what someone’s going to say until you talk to them,” one attorney said. “It’s a difficult decision to understand.”

Don Suber:

The Bush administration blew it.

Perhaps the prosecutorial powers of the federal government need to be reined in.

Ted Stevens, Tom DeLay, Scooter Libby…

Yikes!

One was convicted ILLEGALLY.

One was exonnerated TOO LATE.

And one is in the 14th day of jury deliberations with only 2 of 24 counts decided.

Disgusting

Ed Morrissey:

Nonetheless, the travails of DeLay and the GOP in 2006 should serve as a “stark” lesson for Republicans in the midterms.  DeLay authored the notorious “K Street Project” that attempted to build a permanent Republican majority by marrying the party to lobbyists.  That resulted in an explosion of pork and a curious predilection with so-called “big government conservatism” that exploded spending after George W. Bush took office.  That marriage of the federal government and special interests discredited the GOP as an alternative to Democrats, which combined with the scandal led to their downfall in 2006 and 2008.

No more K Street Projects, and no more big-government conservatism.  The next Republican majority had better focus on actual reductions in federal government and the end of pork-barrel spending to woo lobbyists.

And now that the Abramoff case has closed, maybe the American media can pursue the story of Paul Magliocchetti and PMA with at least half the vigor of their pursuit of the Abramoff scandal.  After all, we have another well-connected lobbyist allegedly laundering campaign contributions and winning legislative gifts for his clients.  Are they less interested in a similar scandal tied to Democrats?  And if so … why?

Jay Newton-Small at Swampland at Time:

DeLay still has one charge pending in Texas court. “I’m sure he’s very eager to see that done,” says Cullen, who is not representing DeLay in that case. A hearing in that case is scheduled for August 24 and is expected to come to trial in the fall. An email to DeLay’s office seeking comment was not immediate answered.

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What Was Said At A Ramadan Celebration

James Hohmann, Maggie Haberman and Mike Allen in Politico:

The White House on Saturday struggled to tamp down the controversy over President Barack Obama’s statements about a mosque near Ground Zero — insisting Obama wasn’t backing off remarks Friday night where he offered support for a project that has infuriated some families whose loved ones died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Obama’s comments placed him in the middle of the controversy over a Muslim group’s plans for a mosque near the site of the 2001 attack — and in turn, transformed an emotion-laden local dispute in New York into a nationwide debate overnight.

Republicans pounced, amid early signs that the issue would seep into some state and congressional contests. “It is divisive and disrespectful to build a mosque next to the site where 3,000 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic extremism,” said Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio. His opponent, Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent, came out in support of Obama’s comments.

And Democrats — at least some who were willing to comment — could barely contain their frustration over Obama’s remarks, saying he had potentially placed every one of their candidates into the middle of the debate by giving GOP candidates a chance to ask them point-blank: Do you agree with Obama on the mosque, or not?

That could be particularly damaging to moderate Democrats in conservative-leaning districts, already 2010’s most vulnerable contenders.

“I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor,” former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who once ran the House Democratic campaign arm, wrote in POLITICO’s Arena. “While a defensible position, it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

We now have official Washington’s response and take on the President’s speech last night stating that Muslim-Americans have every right to build an Islamic center on private property near Ground Zero. It comes in the form of Politico’s ubiquitous and closely followed “Playbook” email. As the author puts it, the statement poses a basic choice: is it “Obama delivering on his status as a breakthrough figure on American history”, by which we mean a feel-good affirmative action president with a foreign-sounding name or “elitist arrogance.”

It continues with various responses — mainly from chortling but unnamed Republican operatives marveling at the president’s being out of touch or courting a backlash from regular Americans but also one from Michael Bloomberg and a circumspect response from a White House aide.

The stand out for me was the response from what the author labels a “middle American” …

“This is too much. It’s not insensitivity that’s leading these guys to build this mosque. It’s a monument to their conquer of the site — just like the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem or the conversion of the Hagia Sophia (former primary church of the Byzantine empire in Istanbul) into a mosque”

There’s also what’s titled a “flashback” to what is apparently the most apt comparison, President Bush’s impromptu speech at Ground Zero two days after the attack: “”I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

It’s a quite a moment. We’re still hung up on the Turks turning the Hagia Sophia into a Mosque in 1453? Soon after 9/11 we marveled at how the bin Ladenites could still be so aggrieved over the abolition of the Caliphate in 1923 and the loss of Muslim Spain in 1492. But I guess times change.

John Hinderaker at Powerline

Frank Gaffney at Big Peace:

At a White House celebration of Ramadan tonight in the company of representatives of several of the Nation’s most prominent Muslim Brotherhood front organizations, President Obama announced his strong support for one of their most immediate objectives: the construction of a mega-mosque and “cultural center” at Ground Zero.  In so doing, he publicly embraced the greatest tar-baby of his presidency.

In the process, Mr. Obama also inadvertently served up what he likes to call a “teachable moment” concerning the nature of the enemy we are confronting, and the extent to which it is succeeding in the Brotherhood’s stated mission: “…Eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

As the AP reported, “President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully endorsed building a mosque near Ground Zero saying the country’s founding principles demanded no less. ‘As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,’ Obama said, weighing in for the first time on a controversy that has riven New York and the nation. ‘That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.’

“Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us—a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.”

So much for the pretense that, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had previously declared, the President would not get involved because the Ground Zero mosque (GZM) controversy was “a local matter.” (As opposed, say, to the arrest of a Harvard professor on disorderly conduct charges.)

Gone too is the option of continuing to conceal an extraordinary fact: the Obama administration is endorsing not only this “local matter,” but explicitly endorsing the agenda of the imam behind it – Feisal Abdul Rauf.  Rauf is the Muslim Brother, who together with his wife Daisy Khan (a.k.a. Daisy Kahn for tax purposes, at least) runs the tellingly named “Cordoba Initiative.”   He is believed to be on a taxpayer-underwritten junket and/or fund-raising tour of the Middle East, courtesy of the State Department, which insists that he is a “moderate” in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary. Interestingly, the President’s rhetoric – like that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other apologists for and boosters of the GZM – tracks perfectly with the Muslim Brotherhood line about why we need to allow what Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin has correctly described as an “Islamist victory arch”  close by some of America’s most hallowed ground.  It is, we are told, all about “religious freedom” and “tolerance.”

Glenn Greenwald:

What makes this particularly commendable is there is virtually no political gain to be had from doing it, and substantial political risk. Polls shows overwhelming opposition to the mosque nationwide (close to 70% opposed), and that’s true even in New York, where an extraordinary “50% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, and 52% of ‘non-enrolled’ voters, don’t want to see the mosque built.”  The White House originally indicated it would refrain from involving itself in the dispute, and there was little pressure or controversy over that decision.  There was little anger over the President’s silence even among liberal critics.  And given the standard attacks directed at Obama — everything from being “soft on Terror” to being a hidden Muslim — choosing this issue on which to take a very politically unpopular and controversial stand is commendable in the extreme.

The campaign against this mosque is one of the ugliest and most odious controversies in some time.  It’s based purely on appeals to base fear and bigotry.  There are no reasonable arguments against it, and the precedent that would be set if its construction were prevented — equating Islam with Terrorism, implying 9/11 guilt for Muslims generally, imposing serious restrictions on core religious liberty — are quite serious.  It was Michael Bloomberg who first stood up and eloquently condemned this anti-mosque campaign for what it is, but Obama’s choice to lend his voice to a vital and noble cause is a rare demonstration of principled, politically risky leadership.  It’s not merely a symbolic gesture, but also an important substantive stand against something quite ugly and wrong.  This is an act that deserves pure praise.

UPDATE: To anyone wanting to quibble with what was done here — the timing, the wording, etc. — I’ll just pose this question:  when is the last time a President voluntarily entered an inflammatory public controversy by taking a position opposed by 70% of the public?

Tom Maguire:

I have an idea our President will love – maybe we can open an Islamic Waffle House in a building damaged in the 9/11 attacks.  Obama can be the first customer.

On Friday night President Obama explained tolerance and the Constitution to We The Rubes, drawing this headline from the Times:

Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site

With uncanny prescience AllahPundt explained that the media was reporting on their fantasies, and that Obama was actually splitting the difference:

So what’s a poll-readin’ president to do? On the one hand, he’s at a Ramadan dinner and doesn’t want to alienate either the audience or his base. On the other hand, he’s staring at supermajority opposition to the mosque. Hey, I know: How about a statement that mostly dodges the question of whether it should be built in favor of the easier question of whether the owners have the right to build it? Not a Bloombergian lecture, in other words (unlike Bloomberg, Obama’s not a lame duck and thus can’t afford to wag his finger like The Enlightened so enjoy doing), but rather a pat on the back for free exercise and a pat on the back for the mosque’s opponents by acknowledging their “emotions.” He’s basically voting present. But since the media is pro-mosque too and eager to leverage authority on behalf of its position, this’ll be spun tomorrow as some sort of stirring statement in defense of the right to … alienate everyone around you, I guess, in the ostensible interests of “dialogue.”

And on cue, here is President Obama on Saturday, backpedaling from the media so quickly he might be the answer to the Jets Darrelle Revis problem:

Obama Says Mosque Upholds Principle of Equal Treatment

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERGPANAMA CITY, Fla. — President Obama said on Saturday that in defending the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near Ground Zero he “was not commenting” on “the wisdom” of that particular project, but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat “everyone equal, regardless” of religion.

…White House officials said earlier in the day that Mr. Obama was not trying to promote the project, but rather sought more broadly to make a statement about freedom of religion and American values. “In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Mr. Obama said at the Coast Guard station. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.

“And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

That was quick.  Gutless, but quick.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

So, of course, now right wing bloggers are crowing that Obama is “walking back” his earlier statement; but I don’t see that at all. Obama is emphasizing that his remarks were meant to support the Constitution — which should be enough for anyone. The idea that it’s somehow “unwise” to build this project is a concept promoted by opponents, and it’s irrelevant to the Constitutional issue; it would have been neither appropriate nor productive for Obama to wade into that poisoned debate.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

Already getting trounced in the polls, Democrats are reeling over the President’s decision to side with the Muslim Brotherhood over the American people by endorsing the Ground Zero mosque. So he’s trying to close Pandora’s Box.

Politico reports [and thanks to John Hinderaker at Powerline for pointing this out] that Obama is now seeking “to defuse the controversy” by explaining that he was merely talking about the mosque proponents’ legal right to build at the World Trade Center site. “I was not commenting and I will not comment,” he said, “on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there” (emphasis added).

Good luck with that one. Compounding insult with cynicism and cowardice is probably not a winning strategy.

Doug Mataconis

UPDATE: Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard

Andy McCarthy at NRO

David Dayen at Firedoglake

Tbogg on Kristol

UPDATE #2: Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus at Bloggingheads

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The Last Political Couple Left Standing Will Be Bill And Hillary, Just As The Mayans Predicted

Mike Allen at Politico:

Al and Tipper Gore, whose playful romance enlivened Washington and the campaign trail for a quarter century, have decided to separate after 40 years of marriage, the couple told friends Tuesday.

In an “Email from Al and Tipper Gore,” the couple said: “We are announcing today that after a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate.

“This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration. We ask for respect for our privacy and that of our family, and we do not intend to comment further.”

The e-mail was obtained by POLITICO and confirmed by Kalee Kreider of the office of Al and Tipper Gore. Kreider said there would be no further comment.

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Wow. Even in the messy world of political marriages this one comes as a shock

Ruth Marcus at WaPo:

So who would have thought that Bill and Hillary would outlast Al and Tipper? The Clintons’ marriage was — is? — famously complicated. The Gores’ marriage — well, except for that overwrought convention kiss — seemed pretty normal. Almost, you might say, “Love Story.” “It was just like everyone else melted away,” Tipper wrote of their meeting at his high school prom.

They survived four kids, their son’s accident, her depression, his loss.

You would have thought they were past whatever hump it is after which marriages can be deemed solid. There is something deeply unsettling about their decision to separate, because the pairing seemed so stable and so sensible — not two peas in a pod as much as two pieces that fit together.

Howard Fineman at Newsweek:

I’ve known Al and (less well) Tipper Gore since the early 1980s, and always thought that their marriage was the quirky, unstable leftover of their youths in the capital. Gore was as “federal” as you could get, the princely son of a senator living at the Fairfax Hotel and commuting up Massaschusetts Avenue to prep school at St. Albans. Tipper was all local, the fun-loving daughter or a well-to-do Arlington, Va ., businessman (and who gave the young couple the suburban house they lived in). It had to have been thrilling—and an act of teenage rebellion for them both—when they literally crossed the river for each other.

But the driven Gore—whose father reared him with the expectation that he would be president—was, after a fitful start (reporter, theology student)—focused intently on a political life. His wife, by contrast, always seemed unsettled in the role of the Good Wife, the dutiful, careful, and absorbed political spouse.

She did her best. In the old days, the Gores used to have a Christmas party at their Arlington home when their kids were young; Gore staffers would dress as Santas and elves. Al tried to enjoy these events (even though he wasn’t much for easy social chatter), but I always thought that Tipper, genial as she was,  seemed a bit nonplussed by the use of her home for such a mix of public, political, and private life.

Tipper loved to take photographs at events—a way to express herself artistically but always a way to distance herself from them.

The two sometimes could seem yoked together like the figures on a wedding cake. When, as vice president, they hosted Halloween parties, they dressed in elaborate costumes (provided by the Walt Disney Co.) that some years completely hid their identity as individuals. It was a kind of goof on the whole enterprise: guests had their pictures taken with “hosts” no one could identify. I didn’t think the Gores were enjoying themselves in the heavy armor of costumes.

Rod Dreher:

Forty years together, and now this. I remember thinking around the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that the Gores were so very different from the Clintons, whose marriage seemd like a business deal more than anything else. If the Gore break-up really isn’t about adultery on either side, then it seems that the failure of their marriage could be the cost of being a famous public figure. If Al is on the road here, there and everywhere, he’s not at home being a husband. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming him, necessarily. I don’t have any reason to put the blame on him, and I do hope that people who don’t like Al Gore as a politician and as an environmental advocate won’t take advantage of his personal crisis to whack on him. Still, if Al and Tipper Gore did grow apart over the years, surely his prominence and associated globetrotting was a major contributing factor in this sad end to their marriage. At least that’s what friends of their are anonymously telling the press.

Forty years. Man.

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

Perhaps the love faded away through the years, like a slowly melting glacier. We suppose these things just happen sometimes. But while the Gores may never be the same again, we prefer to remember them at the peak of their love: making out in front of everybody at the Democratic National Convention in 2000.

UPDATE: Jon Bershad at Mediaite

Maureen O’Connor at Gawker

UPDATE #2: On the scandal, The Smoking Gun

Ann Althouse

Ed Morrissey

John Hinderaker at Powerline

UPDATE #3: Stu Woo at WSJ

2 Comments

Filed under Political Figures

CW Watch: Arrows Down On Newsweek

Images from Instant History

Newsweek:

The Washington Post Co. announced Wednesday that it has retained Allen & Company to explore the possible sale of NEWSWEEK magazine. The newsweekly, which has struggled in recent years, was launched in 1933 and purchased by The Washington Post Co. in 1961.

Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham came to New York to tell the magazine staff at a 10:30 a.m. ET meeting on Wednesday. “We have reported losses in the tens of millions for the last two years,” he said. “Outstanding work by NEWSWEEK’s people has significantly narrowed the losses in the last year and particularly in the last few months. But we do not see a path to continuing profitability under our management.”

Graham said the company decided to go public with the news to invite as many potential buyers as possible, and said the sale could be completed within a few months. “Our aim will be–if we can do it–a rapid sale to a qualified buyer,” he said. “We’re a public company and we have to consider the price offered. But we’ll have a second and third criteria: the future of NEWSWEEK and the future of those who work here.”

In a later meeting, NEWSWEEK Editor Jon Meacham told the editorial staff that he continues to believe in the mission of the company. Meacham said he would do everything he could to ensure the continuation of the magazine, including personally pitching potential buyers. He also reminded the staff that NEWSWEEK wasn’t closed today, but was put on the market.

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine

Colby Hall at Mediaite:

The writing was on the wall a few weeks back when news broke that Newsweek would be moving its staff, from its brand-new and cushy Tribeca offices, to its more mundane confines in Midtown Manhattan. These would be the offices that they JUST MOVED INTO last June, and the fact that Kaplan would be taking over…well, it just reinforced what everyone already knew. Kaplan is another subsidiary of the Washington Post company, that has become a cash cow best known for its higher education programs, professional training courses and test preparation products. So it would make sense for them to have the coolest offices.

But while moving was admittedly a pain, sources within the magazine spun this as a smart move, not just because it solved a serious space problem for Kaplan, but also saved Newsweek significant money each year. Cynics might see this as a “cheap” and effective way to quickly improve the bottom line, ostensibly to impress prospective buyers.

And what of prospective buyers? Who would want to buy a weekly title that lost a bunch of money last year? Well the truth is that the financial picture of Newsweek is much healthier than one might think. Last year was a big financial loss, which made a number of headlines. But as we said then, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was reported.

It is true that Newsweek lost roughly $28 million in the last year. But to fully appreciate that number, one need remember that roughly two-thirds of that amount came in the the first quarter of last year, and included a write-down of over $6MM in severance packages. Further, Q2 of ‘09 saw roughly $5MM in losses, and Q3 roughly $4MM. Q4? Newsweek actually turned a small yet significant profit of $400k in Q4 of 2009.

Sources close to the title tell us that the first quarter of 2010 was also encouraging – ad sales efforts met their budget and print ad numbers for the months of March and April, perhaps owing as much to the end of the ad recession as anything else. The bottom line is that Newsweek is seeing ad revenues return to pre-recession levels, and combined with a rather dramatic reduction in losses, the weekly news title is moving very close to hitting their break even target for 2011.

Matthew Yglesias:

And I’m actually sort of surprised Graham took such a dour line. I would have just said that in a digital paradigm it doesn’t make sense for one company to own both a daily news product and a weekly news product. In an “ink on paper” world, there’s a big difference between a good Newsweek story and a good Washington Post story but in a “pixles on the internet” paradigm there isn’t. If the Washington Post Company is going to operate two different web products they would have to be differentiated along a different axis—one could be a local news site about the DC metropolitan area and one could be a site about about politics and national affairs. But the Post/Newsweek alignment didn’t make sense. The two print publications were supplements while the two websites are competitors.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

In today’s meeting, at which the announcement was made that Newsweek was being put up for sale by the Washington Post Company, the magazine’s editor Jon Meacham said that he will be lining up financiers and trying to make a bid to buy the magazine himself. He has already had inquiries from some very well-off types this morning. Tonight’s “Daily Show” appearance—he’s been booked for ages—should be really something! Meacham is currently talking to reporters and juggling calls, so expect more soonish.

John Koblin at New York Observer:

Newsweek is up for sale, and editor Jon Meacham is going to explore the possibility of rounding up some bidders to buy the magazine himself.

“I believe this is an important American institution,” he said in an interview. “I just do. Maybe that’s quixotic, maybe that’s outdated, but it’s what I believe.”

He said he had two voicemails from “two billionaires” after the news was announced this morning that The Washington Post Company was going to try to sell the magazine. He said he had not called them back.

Mr. Meacham won a Pulitzer Prize last year and he has a new TV show that will debut on May 7 on PBS. In other words, he has plenty of options he can explore.

But for now, he said he’s dedicated to figuring out how to save Newsweek.

“We have to figure out what journalism is going to be as the old business model collapses all around us,” said Mr. Meacham. “And I want to be–I want to try to be–a part of that undertaking. Will it work? Who the hell knows. But I’m at least going to look at this.”

Jon Friedman at Market Watch:

I have another idea: Why can’t the Washington Post Co.  combine Newsweek and Slate, another of its well regarded media holdings, into one all-online operation?

The move would accomplish one big priority: saving money. Newsweek would go forward with a smaller staff and still preserve some of the jobs of staffers currently at the magazine.

The news that the Post Co. may unload the money-losing Newsweek should hardly come as a shock. All over the industry, big names, new and old, have been vanishing, such as Gourmet and Portfolio. BusinessWeek received a stay of execution when Bloomberg stepped in at the 11th hour and acquired the publication from McGraw-Hill.

Traditionalists have bemoaned the changes that Bloomberg has put in place. They seem to forget that without Bloomberg’s involvement, BusinessWeek would probably have disappeared by now.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

The Washington Post Co. is looking to sell Newsweek, its vaunted but money-losing magazine jewel. Media analysts are in a frenzy, and many are envisioning a future in which Newsweek has no paper edition. Some are wondering whether the magazine should merge with Slate, an all-online magazine also owned by the Post. Others like Gabriel Sherman are worried about branding: will the company struggle to find buyers considering the words “news” and “week” don’t really work on the Web?

The sale and possible electronificiation of Newsweek just a year after its redesign is one of those stories that epitomizes the challenges of the media landscape. Newsweek is still one of America’s two most famous newsmags, the other being Time. Its rebranding effort last year tried to merge the soul of a weekly news digest with … well, something else. The first few issues looked as though a design team had been instructed to empty their brains onto all 50 of its thin pages. Large pictures peeked out of unexpected corners of the magazine, faint blocks of color invaded the feature section, and the back of the book looked more like a collage of design ideas than a unified theory of magazine layout.

[…]
Newsweek grew up learning how to tell people what happened. Today, everybody knows what happened. So Newsweek’s reinvention needs another reinvention. I wish them the best of luck.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic

UPDATE #3: Ross Douthat

UPDATE #4: Jim Newell at Gawker

UPDATE #5: Mike Allen at Politico

Meenal Vamburkar at Mediaite

Nat Ives at AdAge

UPDATE #6: Peter Lauria at Daily Beast

Stephen Spruiell at The Corner

Michael Calderone at Yahoo News

UPDATE #7: Jack Shafer at Slate

UPDATE #8: Chris Rovzar at The New York Magazine

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

3 Comments

Filed under Mainstream

Don’t Drink The Water

Andrew Moseman at Discover:

The oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico is finally out, as the Deepwater Horizon sank into the sea yesterday and hope for finding 11 missing workers began to fade. The damage assessment for the oil spill, however, has just begun.

Oil from an undersea pocket that was ruptured by the rig, which was leased by the energy company BP, has begun to spread outward. The spill measures 10 miles (16 kilometers) by 10 miles, about four times the area of Manhattan, and is comprised of a “light sheen with a few patches of thicker crude,” U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Cheri Ben-Iesau said today [BusinessWeek]. Whether or not the 700,000 gallons of diesel on board Deepwater Horizon is part of the spill remains unknown. Transocean, the company that owns the rig, admitted that it failed to “to stem the flow of hydrocarbons” before the rig sank.

Josh Garrett at HeatingOil:

On top of the heavy human cost of the incident is the threat of widespread environmental damage, which is growing by the minute as a massive oil slick spreads toward land. By Monday afternoon, the size of the oil slick was estimated at 1,800 square miles, the New York Times reported. Although no environmental effects have yet been observed, sea flora and fauna could soon be harmed by the presence of the oil in the water. Environmental damage could worsen as the oil slick moves into coastal ecosystems, which the US Coast Guard estimated would not happen for at least 36 hours, according to the Wall Street Journal. BP, the oil company that commissioned the sunken platform, is charged with stopping the leak and cleaning up the spilled oil, both of which could take months.

Cain Burdeau at Daily Caller:

Crews used robot submarines to activate valves in hopes of stopping the leaks, but they may not know until Tuesday if that strategy will work. BP also mobilized two rigs to drill a relief well if needed. Such a well could help redirect the oil, though it could also take weeks to complete, especially at that depth.

BP plans to collect leaking oil on the ocean bottom by lowering a large dome to capture the oil and then pumping it through pipes and hoses into a vessel on the surface, said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration and Production.

It could take up to a month to get the equipment in place.

“That system has been deployed in shallower water, but it has never been deployed at 5,000 feet of water, so we have to be careful,” he said.

The spill, moving slowly north and spreading east and west, was about 30 miles from the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast Monday. The Coast Guard said kinks in the pipe were helping stem the flow of oil.

From the air Monday afternoon, the oil spill reached as far as the eye could see. There was little evidence of a major cleanup, with only a handful of vessels near the site of the leak.

The oil sheen was of a shiny light blue color, translucent and blending with the water, but a distinct edge between the oil slick and the sea could be seen stretching for miles.

George Crozier, oceanographer and executive director at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, said he was studying wind and ocean currents driving the oil.

He said Pensacola, Fla., is probably the eastern edge of the threatened area, though no one really knows what the effects will be.

“We’ve never seen anything like this magnitude,” he said. “The problems are going to be on the beaches themselves. That’s where it will be really visible.”

Aaron Viles, director for the New Orleans-based environmental group Gulf Restoration Network, said he flew over the spill Sunday and saw what was likely a sperm whale swimming near the oil sheen.

“There are going to be significant marine impacts,” he said.

Seymour Friendly at Firedoglake:

We have the information that Federal law places all the responsibility for cleanup and emergency response onto the rig’s operator. BP leased the rig from Transoceanic, hence, BP is liable.

Obviously, without massive regulation and investment, British Petroleum is not going to plan and prepare effectively for disasters like this. Such preparation is not profitable to them.

Handling a disaster like this should without doubt be a Federal obligation. BP can absorb the costs, but the Feds should fulfill the mandate for having plans and personnel ready for response, and requirements and safety guidelines that prevent and mitigate disasters as well.

As it stands, of the three initial possible responses:

1) Activate the massive cutoff valve, stopping the flow of oil, via improvised use of deep-sea ROVs,

2) Drill “intervention wells” over a period of months,

3) Place an apparatus over the well that transports the leaked oil to the surface where it can then be removed from the sea indefinitely,

That BP, which owns the decision in lieu of Federal regulations and agency authority, is going to elect for (3).

That means that oil will be going to the surface, and recovered, until the “something can be done”. In other words, this oil leak in the Gulf may go on for a very, very long time.

I’d like to see the Obama administration rectify its statement today that it has “acted swiftly to protect the environment” in light of the fact that it is not clear that there is even a Federal capacity to respond to this situation, and the best of our information is that the leak will continue indefinitely, with the Feds needing to figure out how to remove the oily water produced for months, and the wreck of the oil rig left at the bottom of the deep blue sea.

James Herron at WSJ:

However, contrary to initial Coastguard reports Friday that no oil was leaking from the sunken drilling rig, it became apparent Saturday that around 1,000 barrels a day of crude oil is gushing from ruptures in the pipeline that linked the platform to the sea bed. An oil slick 30 miles long and 20 miles wide is drifting slowly north towards the shore, although weather forecasts indicate it will not hit land for at least 72 hours.

“The oil is ours and we are responsible for the cleanup,” said a BP spokesman. [Read BP’s latest press statement here.]

BP is throwing all the resources it has available at the spill, so the cost to the company may be substantial. It has deployed 32 spill response ships and five aircraft to spray up to 100,000 gallons of chemical dispersant on the slick and skim oil from the surface of the water and deploy floating barriers to trap the oil.

In case attempts to shut down the leaking oil using a remotely operated subsea robot fail, BP is already sending in another rig to drill a second well to inject a specialized heavy fluid into the reservoir and cut the flow of oil from the sea bed–a process that could take months.

“We’ve already spent millions,” and will continue to spend whatever is necessary, said the BP spokesman.

UPDATE: John Cole

Rod Dreher

UPDATE #3: Paul Krugman

Chris Good at The Atlantic

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

UPDATE #4: John Hinderaker at Powerline

National Review

Andrew Sullivan

Mark Schmitt and Megan McArdle at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #5: Glenn Thrush and Mike Allen in Politico

Allah Pundit

Steve Benen

UPDATE #6: Pascal-Emmanuel Gorby at The American Scene here and here. And via PEG, Lexington at The Economist

UPDATE #7: Huffington Post

UPDATE #8: Daniel Gross at Slate

2 Comments

Filed under Energy, Environment

Enter The Hobot

Mark Leibovich at NYT:

Before he goes to sleep, between 11 and midnight, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, typically checks in by e-mail with the same reporter: Mike Allen of Politico, who is also the first reporter Pfeiffer corresponds with after he wakes up at 4:20. A hyperactive former Eagle Scout, Allen will have been up for hours, if he ever went to bed. Whether or not he did is one of the many little mysteries that surround him. The abiding certainty about Allen is that sometime between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., seven days a week, he hits “send” on a mass e-mail newsletter that some of America’s most influential people will read before they say a word to their spouses.

llen’s e-mail tipsheet, Playbook, has become the principal early-morning document for an elite set of political and news-media thrivers and strivers. Playbook is an insider’s hodgepodge of predawn news, talking-point previews, scooplets, birthday greetings to people you’ve never heard of, random sightings (“spotted”) around town and inside jokes. It is, in essence, Allen’s morning distillation of the Nation’s Business in the form of a summer-camp newsletter.

Like many in Washington, Pfeiffer describes Allen with some variation on “the most powerful” or “important” journalist in the capital. The two men exchange e-mail messages about six or eight times a day. Allen also communes a lot with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff; Robert Gibbs, the press secretary; David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior adviser; and about two dozen other White House officials. But Pfeiffer is likely Allen’s main point of contact, the one who most often helps him arrive at a “West Wing Mindmeld,” as Playbook calls it, which is essentially a pro-Obama take on that day’s news. (Allen gets a similar fill from Republicans, which he also disseminates in Playbook.)

Pfeiffer tells Allen the message that the Obama administration is trying to “drive” that morning ­— “drive” being the action verb of choice around the male-dominated culture of Politico, a three-year-old publication, of which the oft-stated goal is to become as central to political addicts as ESPN is to sports junkies. “Drive” is a stand-in for the stodgier verb “influence.” If, say, David S. Broder and R. W. Apple Jr. were said to “influence the political discourse” through The Washington Post and The New York Times in the last decades of the 20th century, Politico wants to “drive the conversation” in the new-media landscape of the 21st. It wants to “win” every news cycle by being first with a morsel of information, whether or not the morsel proves relevant, or even correct, in the long run — and whether the long run proves to be measured in days, hours or minutes.

In Politico parlance, “influence” is less a verb than the root of a noun. Politico’s top editors describe “influentials” (or “compulsives”) as their target audience: elected officials, political operatives, journalists and other political-media functionaries. Since early 2007, Allen’s “data points,” as he calls the items in Playbook, have become the cheat sheet of record for a time-starved city in which the power-and-information hierarchy has been upended. It is also a daily totem for those who deride Washington as a clubby little town where Usual Suspects talk to the same Usual Suspects in a feedback loop of gamesmanship, trivia, conventional wisdom and personality cults.

Mike Allen at Politico:

FIRST LOOK — “BLACKBERRY BREAKFAST” — N.Y. Times national political reporter Mark Leibovich’s 8,100-word cover story of Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “THE MAN THE WHITE HOUSE WAKES UP TO: Mike Allen and the Politico-ization of Washington … The Insider’s Insider”: “Playbook has become the principal early-morning document for an elite set of political and news-media thrivers and strivers. … [M]any in Washington … [describe] Allen with some variation on ‘the most powerful’ or ‘important’ journalist in the capital. … Allen’s ‘data points’ … have become the cheat sheet of record for a time-starved city in which the power-and-information hierarchy has been upended. … ‘He is part mascot and part sleepless narrator of our town,’ Tracy Sefl … told me by e-mail. … ‘Washington narratives and impressions are no longer shaped by the grand pronouncements of big news organizations,’ said Allen … ‘The smartest people in politics give us the kindling, and we light the fire.’ … … Playbook has become the political-media equivalent of those food pills that futurists envision will replace meals. … [T]he Playbook community … includes a former president, two former vice presidents, C.E.O.’s and network anchors … If … Axelrod can’t read the papers before rushing off to the White House, he will scroll through Playbook during his six-block ride to work … [Leibo:] I read Playbook every morning on my BlackBerry, usually while my copies of The New York Times and The Washington Post are in plastic bags. … [John] Harris readily acknowledges that Politico is ‘not for everybody,’ and [Jim] VandeHei said they have begun focusing their recruiting on New York, because ‘the city produces reporters who are fearless, fast and ruthlessly competitive.’” Cover image, shot in the Playbook Cabana at POLITICO World Headquarters

Ben Smith at Politico:

Yes, there’s more navel-gazing this morning: The cover of this week’s Times Magazine is an 8,000 word profile of my colleague Mike Allen, whose morning Playbook — sign up here — has become a central piece of Washington’s mechanics. (“I definitely read it in bed,” sys Katie Couric.)

The piece is on the “POLITICO-ization” of Washington, but largely on Mike, “part mascot and part sleepless narrator of our town,” as Tracy Sefl says.

Mark Leibovich is a wonderful writer, and while I don’t agree with every word, the piece is worth a read through. Playbook is my first read every morning (and unlike some of my colleagues, I’m more about fighting the morning to a draw than winning it), and has always struck me as an unusual phenomenon, in part — though this isn’t the focus of the piece — because it’s so collegial, warm, and small-towny in a city whose inhabitants are, in reality, trying to destroy one another.

And of course, the Times piece arrived first through the filter of Playbook.

Doug J. on Ben Smith:

On the same topic, Ben Smith writes the most nauseating sentence I have ever read in my life:

Playbook is my first read every morning (and unlike some of my colleagues, I’m more about fighting the morning to a draw than winning it), and has always struck me as an unusual phenomenon, in part—though this isn’t the focus of the piece—because it’s so collegial, warm, and small-towny in a city whose inhabitants are, in reality, trying to destroy one another.Because that’s what matters, that all the Villagers can jerk each other off in a glorified gossip page, while our civilization collapses.

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

Oh boy! Today the fecund womb of the New York Times magazine has birthed into the world Mark Leibovich’s seventy-kabillion word essay on Politico’s Mike Allen, which I think is titled “I Was Told There’d Be Cheap Media Narratives” or something.

Alex Pareene says: “This is such terrible inside baseball that, honestly, I don’t expect any living human being not currently employed by a web publication charged with ‘covering’ the political media to have clicked through.” Gah, guess who fits that description!

So, okay. Here are all the interesting things you can learn from this story:

Things You Already Knew:

–“[White House Communications Director Dan] Pfeiffer tells Allen the message that the Obama administration is trying to ‘drive’ that morning.” Ha! And yet the Obama administration will often tell you that they are totally above such manipulations!

–“[Politico] wants to ‘win’ every news cycle by being first with a morsel of information, whether or not the morsel proves relevant, or even correct, in the long run — and whether the long run proves to be measured in days, hours or minutes.” Yes. Politico has basically overcome the need to be “relevant” or “correct” through a practice by which their irrelevance and incorrectness later becomes a “Politico exclusive.”

–“‘The people in this community, they all want to read the same 10 stories,’ [Allen] said, table-hopping in the Hay-Adams. ‘And to find all of those, you have to read 1,000 stories. And we do that for you.'” They actually go on to publish all 1,000 stories, but never mind.

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–“Politico today remains a White House shorthand for everything the administration claims to dislike about Washington — Beltway myopia, politics as daily sport.” Coincidentally, these are also the very things that Americans dislike about Washington!

–Leibovich says: “I have also been a source: after I ‘spotted’ Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at an organic Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood last year — picking up kung pao chicken with brown rice (‘for Tim’) — I dutifully e-mailed Allen with the breaking news.” AMERICA WAS NEVER THE SAME AGAIN.

–“Like Woodward, Allen can be tagged with the somewhat loaded moniker of ‘access journalist.'” SOMEWHAT LOADED!

–“Allen reported that The Post was planning to hold paid salons for lobbyists at the home of its publisher, Katharine Weymouth, setting off a firestorm.” And to be sure, that was a superb story, the impact of which is only slightly lessened when you get to the part of Leibovich’s story where he describes the Mardi Gras party hosted by a lobbyist and attended by the very worst human beings in Washington.

–“While Harris and VandeHei say — rightly — that Politico has devoted lots of space and effort to, say, the health care debate, many of its prominent stories on the subject followed a reductive, who’s-up-who’s-down formula.” Indeed, this is true. I doubt that anyone at Politico is even aware of what “health care” does, or why it is so relevant to millions of Americans.

Things That Maybe You Didn’t Already Know

–“Before he goes to sleep, between 11 and midnight, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, typically checks in by e-mail with” Allen. Whether or not Pfeiffer takes the opportunity to ask, “Do you think I could talk to Dick Cheney, who is probably lying right there?” is left unmentioned.

–“In 1993, Allen was covering a trial in Richmond, Va., for The New York Times (as a stringer) and The Richmond Times-Dispatch (which employed him). He found a pay phone, darted into the street and got whacked by a car.” WAIT. As someone who used to live in Richmond, I am left to ask, in awe: Mike Allen found a working pay phone?!

–“Working for Politico is ‘like tackle football,’ VandeHei reminds people, which might explain why most of Politico’s best-known bylines are male.” Another explanation is that maybe there is some sort of institutionalized sexism in most American newsrooms?

–“In Politico parlance, ‘influence’ is less a verb than the root of a noun.” Uhm…o-kay then!

Things That Are… What’s The Term I’m Looking For? Oh, Yes. “Vaguely Disturbing”:

–“Allen — who is childless and owns no cars or real estate — perpetually picks up meal and beverage tabs for his friend-sources (the dominant hybrid around Mikey).” I submit to you: “friend-source” is quite possibly the saddest word in the English language.

–“Another construct (originating outside Politico) is that Harris and VandeHei are God and Jesus — it’s unclear who is who — and that Allen is the Holy Ghost. When I mentioned this to Allen recently, he was adamant that it is meant to be facetious and that no one at Politico really believes that.” Having met many Politico reporters, I can attest to the fact that this is true, and can add that “God” and “Jesus” are actually entities from which Politico reporters seek relief and/or mercy.

–“Allen has been spotted dozing in public — campaign planes, parties — clutching his BlackBerry with two hands against his chest like a teddy bear.” It won’t love you back, Mikey!

Kevin Drum:

Here is Mark Leibovich of the New York Times on how Mike Allen’s “Playbook” has become the abridged Bible of modern time-crunched Washington:

“The people in this community, they all want to read the same 10 stories,” [Allen] said, table-chopping in the Hay-Adams. “And to find all of those, you have to read 1,000 stories. And we do that for you.”

As a practical matter, here is how Allen’s 10 stories influence the influentials. Cable bookers, reporters and editors read Playbook obsessively, and it’s easy to pinpoint exactly how an item can spark copycat coverage that can drive a story. Items become segment pieces on “Morning Joe,” the MSNBC program, where there are 10 Politico Playbook segments each week, more than half of them featuring Allen. This incites other cable hits, many featuring Politico reporters, who collectively appear on television about 125 times a week. There are subsequent links to Politico stories on The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post and other Web aggregators that newspaper assigning editors and network news producers check regularly. “Washington narratives and impressions are no longer shaped by the grand pronouncements of big news organizations,” said Allen, a former reporter for three of them — The Washington Post, The New York Times and Time magazine. “The smartest people in politics give us the kindling, and we light the fire.”

For years I’ve avoided reading Playbook (and The Note and First Read) solely because everyone else does read them. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t influence me, of course, it just means that I’m unaware of the influence. I remain unsure whether I’m better off that way or not.

But groupthink is hard enough to avoid already. Deliberately immersing yourself in it just seems absurd. I guess if I were more of a political junkie I’d understand.

Matthew Yglesias:

I think the 15 minutes thing is really pernicious and by no means restricted to Allen. Journalism, as a vocation, highly valorizes breaking news. In part this is about making money, but it’s more fundamentally about the value system of the profession. You defend someone’s work by saying “that ignores Allen’s ability to break news” because breaking news is what it’s all about—the journalism equivalent of collecting championship rings.

But there are really two ways to break news. A Type 1 scoop is a story that if you don’t break, just won’t be broken. A Type 2 scoop is a pure race for priority. You get Type 2 scoops by becoming the favored destination for deliberate leaks, or by ferreting out information that will be officially announced soon enough (Joe Biden will be Obama’s VP pick!), or by chasing down an obvious-but-arduous-to-follow lead. These Type 2 scoops are structurally similar to “breaking news” but they don’t have any real value. Far too often in Washington we have a dozen reporters following something, and then at the margin three more tag along. Meanwhile, almost nobody is doing enterprise work around investigating non-obvious issues. You have way more people covering the White House’s response to the latest attack from Liz Cheney than covering the entire Department of Agriculture and nobody knows what scandals or stories or whatever we’re missing. And it’s largely because we place undue value on the idea of beating the other guy by 15 minutes.

Mark Hemingway at Washington Examiner:

This week’s New York Times magazine has a profile of Mike Allen, the political reporter that writes Politico’s “Playbook” feature. Allen is certainly influential and it’s not surprising that the Times would profile him. Although this “disclosure” by writer Mark Leibovich well into the piece is a pretty damning indictment of the beltway media culture:

I should disclose a few things: I have known Mike Allen for more than a decade. We worked together at The Washington Post, where I spent nine years and where I came to know VandeHei and Harris. We all have the same friends and run into each other a lot, and I have told them how much I admire what they have achieved at Politico. I like them all.

In other words, I write this from within the tangled web of “the community.” I read Playbook every morning on my BlackBerry, usually while my copies of The New York Times and The Washington Post are in plastic bags. When Allen links to my stories, I see a happy uptick in readership. I have also been a source: after I “spotted” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at an organic Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood last year — picking up kung pao chicken with brown rice (“for Tim”) — I dutifully e-mailed Allen with the breaking news.

Again, it’s hard to argue that Allen doesn’t merit a profile — but perhaps Leibovich should step down from his position of as president of Mike Allen’s fan club before he writes a profile of him for the paper of record. Otherwise it merely serves to confirm the reader’s already well-founded suspicions that this is a puff piece.

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

But perhaps even more interesting to anyone not entirely excited by political-media navel-gazing is the article’s focus on the quirks of Playbook’s scribe, Mike Allen, who, it seems, shares few qualities with the human race but many with homeless people and robots. Please bear with us as we review the evidence:

A hyperactive former Eagle Scout, Allen will have been up for hours [by 4:20 a.m.], if he ever went to bed. Whether or not he did is one of the many little mysteries that surround him ….

Okay, so Allen gets very little, if any, sleep.

A corollary are “Mikey Sightings,” a bipartisan e-mail chain among prominent people who track Allen’s stutter-stepping whereabouts — his showing up out of nowhere, around corners, at odd hours, sometimes a few time zones away …

He possesses the ability to teleport. So far, we’re looking at some kind of futuristic robot.

Allen — who is childless and owns no cars or real estate — perpetually picks up meal and beverage tabs for his friend-sources (the dominant hybrid around Mikey). He kisses women’s hands and thanks you so much for coming, even though the party is never at his home, which not even his closest friends have seen …

Nobody has seen his house? A few points for hobo.

Allen also has a tendency to suddenly vanish. But then he will pop up on a TV screen a few minutes later….

Robot!

People routinely wonder whether Allen actually lives somewhere besides the briefing rooms, newsrooms, campaign hotels or going-away dinners for Senator So-and-So’s press secretary that seem to be his perpetual regimen.

Hobo!

And they wonder, “Does Mikey ever sleep?”

The query tires him. He claims he tries to sleep six hours a night, which seems unrealistic for someone who says he tries to wake at 2 or 3 a.m. to start Playbook after evenings that can include multiple stops (and trails of midnight-stamped e-mail) … I asked Allen if he slept during the day, and he said no …

Robot!

It is almost impossible to find anyone who has seen his home (a rented apartment, short walk to the office). “Never seen the apartment,” volunteered Robert L. Allbritton, Politico’s publisher, midinterview. “No man’s land.” When sharing a cab, Allen is said to insist that the other party be dropped off first. One friend describes driving Allen home and having him get out at a corner; in the rearview mirror, the friend saw him hail a cab and set off in another direction. I’ve heard more than one instance of people who sent holiday cards to Allen’s presumed address only to have them returned unopened. One former copy editor at Politico, Campbell Roth, happened to buy a Washington condominium a few years ago that Allen had just vacated. She told me the neighbors called the former tenant “brilliant but weird” and were “genuinely scared about some fire-code violation” based on the mountains of stuff inside.

Shady hobo who hoards garbage! Okay, this is too much for us. Hopefully someone will eventually figure out whether Allen is the nation’s first successful hobo-reporter, or the nation’s first high-tech robot-reporter. Or both? Mike Allen: Politico’s hobot.

Wonkette:

The “gotcha” part of the NYT “takedown” of Politico/Mike Allen is so pathetic, we feel bad for Mike Allen. Turns out his dad, who died a quarter-century ago, was a wingnut who wrote John Birch crap and was suspicious of government! Sort of like EVERY OTHER DAD IN ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA. Conversely, Mike Allen enjoys writing about Washington power structures, and knowing the people involved. Outrage? Anyway, that’s the “takedown” that explains this earlier bit (page three? page seven?) about Mike Allen being creepy/private.

Yet even Allen’s supposed confidants say that there is a part of Mikey they will never know or even ask about. He is obsessively private. He has given different dates to different friends for the date of his birthday. I asked three of Allen’s close friends if they knew what his father did. One said “teacher,” another said “football coach” and the third said “newspaper columnist.” A 2000 profile of Allen in The Columbia Journalism Review described his late father as an “investor.”

It is almost impossible to find anyone who has seen his home (a rented apartment, short walk to the office). “Never seen the apartment,” volunteered Robert L. Allbritton, Politico’s publisher, mid-interview. “No man’s land.” When sharing a cab, Allen is said to insist that the other party be dropped off first. One friend describes driving Allen home and having him get out at a corner; in the rearview mirror, the friend saw him hail a cab and set off in another direction. I’ve heard more than one instance of people who sent holiday cards to Allen’s presumed address only to have them returned unopened.

BREAKING: Obsessive reporter is kind of weird, but also nice to people, and is proud to work for douche-y D.C. publication. Meh. Congrats, NYT Magazine and friend-of-Mike-Allen reporter, for writing some 11-page dingbat personality profile instead of an actual news article about the corrosive garbage farted out by the Politico. Good use of that “long form journalistic feature writing” seminar, mysterious anecdote at the 1/3 mark, shocking revelation/sad denouement to close the article.

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