It is impossible to overstate just how idiotic Politico’s latest piece on New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich's new book, “‘This Town’ rattles D.C. social scene” is. It is a near-limitless source of gastric-troubling guffaws. Here are the highlights:
“Washington is a town that shuns wannabes and impostors to ensure no one as unsavory as the gate-crashing Salahis makes it into the inner sanctum.”
This is the first sentence, and it’s one of the most risibly incorrect things ever put on the internet. To be more deluded, you would have to be the proprietor of a “Free Jahar” blog. First of all, the Salahis did make it into the inner sanctum, and no one else in that sanctum had any clue at all that they didn’t belong. The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan noted at the time that the Salahis “looked the part,” “didn’t look like interlopers,” and that “the hole they stepped through was smack in the middle of a cultural blind spot.” Wannabes and impostors fit right in here.
More importantly, though, Washington is filled, stem-to-stern, with wannabes and impostors. Correction required! But speaking of wannabes and imposters!
“Most journalists know where to draw the line,” adds [Sally] Quinn.”
Sweet sassy molassey, Sally Quinn would not be my go-to source for judgment on where to draw the line. Sally Quinn would be my source for utterly inane rumors, like the "Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are going to switch jobs" thing that totally panned out.
Former Reagan White House Social Secretary Gahl Burt contends that there are indeed “unwritten rules of decorum” in the capital, and frets that books like Leibovich’s have contributed to “a breakdown in loyalty and privacy.” She referenced a recent party at her place where a national political reporter was able to meet a White House aide who was refusing to cooperate on a profile. The off-the-record meeting, Burt said, allowed subject and reporter to connect in a low-pressure setting that ended up helping both.
Yes, there was that one time that someone threw a cocktail party and a reporter managed to come to terms with the subject of a profile over how sweet the beat-sweetening would be, precisely. And the Great Works Of Washington got done that day, resulting in tens of thousands of jobs for the American people. But wait! Why is Burt talking about an off-the-record encounter at a private party!? Cast her out!
Said a mutual friend of the author and [Tammy] Haddad: “Mark just didn’t like the way she operates. I said to him, “Tammy has a role here. … She brings people together.”
You have to love the guy who requires anonymity in order to defend his good friend Tammy Haddad.
Beyond questions of social manners, there is a genuine concern that Leibovich’s reporting and tactics might pull the rug out from under one of the last venues for camaraderie in a polarized city: parties. As Henry Kissinger wrote of Washington in his 1979 book, “The White House Years”: “It is at their dinner parties and receptions that relationships are created without which the machinery of government would soon stalemate itself.”
Because when you need an authority on social niceties, you reach for something that Henry Kissinger wrote. Henry Kissinger, who does not travel to many industrialized countries for fear of being arrested and tried for a host of war crimes. That's your source. Yep. Makes sense.
He also writes exhaustively about POLITICO, vacillating between calling it a journalistic phenomenon and promoter of shallow journalism.
Look up the word “phenomenon,” Politico. There's no vacillating there. You are, indeed, a journalistic phenomenon.
In the elegant days of golden-lit dinners at Evangeline Bruce or Katharine Graham’s home — where presidents dined and serious players made private political deals — the news may have seeped into the public domain eventually. But it would have been unseemly, laughable, really, for Joe Alsop to write about what occurred in his column the next day.
It’s no wonder that many years later, the Washington Post hatched a plan to create a new revenue stream by staging “salons” between Beltway lobbyists and Washington powerbrokers -- and the paper’s own editors and reporters! -- at Katherine Graham’s house. This was reported on by Politico’s Mike Allen, who correctly implied that these arrangements -- and not the reporting that disclosed them -- were “unseemly.”
There is a particular uneasiness that Leibovich chose to open the book with the pageantry and preening at Tim Russert’s 2008 memorial service — ridiculing some for displaying what he saw as overly dramatized grief over the untimely death of the host of the beloved “Meet the Press.” He was there as a guest and didn’t cover the event ... “It’s a question of taste,” said [former White House Press Secretary Mike] McCurry, who once worked for Russert. “It’s one thing to tastefully record the event for posterity and quite another if you try to make people look foolish. A service is not the setting to ridicule.”
In just about any other culture, we would say that “a [funeral] service is not the setting to act ridiculous.” But in D.C., people did act ridiculous and a reporter was there to report on it and it got documented. Good on the reporter. More of this, please. And less McCurry, who also offers us this:
“I think the damage here occurs if people avoid social settings that have historically been non-adversarial, where you can just sit around and have a beer and not worry that what you say will be reported,” says Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman under Bill Clinton. “A trust is broken and ultimately less information gets in front of the American people.”
Ha, so, let’s get this straight. Mike McCurry, whose job it was to make sure that “information” did not fall into the hands of reporters without first being seasoned with Official Clinton Administration Spin, is suddenly worried that a breach of decorum at cocktail parties will lead to “broken trust” and a diminishing of transparency? What does one even do with this sort of nonsense? If you are really concerned about what’s keeping information from getting in front of the American people, maybe the widespread criminalization of sources is a good place to start.
But before we go any further into the briar patch here, let's pause to remember something: This book stemmed from Leibovich's New York Times magazine profile of Mike Allen, which was widely considered a "takedown." What happened next? Ad rates for Allen's Playbook shot up to $50,000 a week, according to people familiar with such things.
Think Progress' Judd Legum has a different take than Politico on this book. "It actually is a huge gift. Something that pretends to challenge a certain culture but actually reinforces it," he says.
Nobody should be surprised: Tammy Haddad wins.
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.
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