Washington Post To Beltway Elites: 'Come Read This Terrible Newsletter!'

06/10/2015 09:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015

WASHINGTON -- If you like politics, and you like newsletters, then you are living in a golden age of early-morning tipsheets (like the HuffPost Morning Email!) and evening reader guides (like HuffPost Hill!) and weekend dispatches o' fun (like Emma Roller's "Some Bullshit!"), many of which are served up with the busy lives of ordinary people in mind.

But enough about you commoners! What about the truly powerful and influential movers and shakers of "This Town?" What are they supposed to do, besides whatever they want, whenever they want? Well, The Washington Post is now providing the "Beltway influential" set the same sort of service that ordinary people might obtain from this thing commonly referred to as "a newspaper." Hence, here we are with The Daily 202, a newsletter for people who might attract high-end advertisers and sponsors, if only those high-end advertisers and sponsors could be convinced that a surfeit of elites were interested in The Washington Post. Sometimes, this trick works.

But the challenge, of course, is creating a package of content that might convince someone with a pile of money that other people with piles of money are regular readers of some special thing. And so, The Washington Post is launching a section that is not for you called Power Post, the cutting edge of which is this Daily 202 newsletter, which cleverly exploits the fact that 1) desperation is the sworn enemy of shame, and 2) Mike Allen wasn't able to patent his Politico Playbook.

And The Daily 202 definitely owes a debt to Playbook (it's a brazen rip-off) that will never be paid in full because it doesn't look like The Daily 202 is going to be as good as Playbook. At least not in terms of attracting Beltway elites. Reading through the first newsletter, it seems that the strategy for attracting this distinguished readership is just to insist that this is what the newsletter is doing, and then hope this collection of old news and miscellany is sufficient to the task. But the odd assortment of material contained therein makes one wonder: "What does The Washington Post think an 'influential' person is?" and, "What makes this hodgepodge of odds and ends specifically relevant to the lives of the powerful?"

In other words, it raises more questions than it answers, like sixth-grade sex-ed, or every episode of "Lost" from its penultimate season. But let's try to pin down what's going on here, and answer some pertinent (I guess?) questions.

Have Powerful People Ever Heard of Ted Cruz?

The lead story in the inaugural edition of The Daily 202 is a "wide ranging interview" with Ted Cruz (because you never brag about your "narrow-ranging interviews") that was given "to The Daily 202, a newsletter for the influential." (Yes, the Daily 202 actually refers to itself in the third person.) The full interview is elsewhere, this is just a tease of the highlights of that interview. But how fresh is the intel the Daily 202 is serving up? Let's take a look:

He’d roll back way more than just the Obama executive action on immigration: “If you live by the pen, you die by the pen,” Cruz told us, stressing the tenuousness of some of the president’s biggest accomplishments. “Everything put in place by executive order can be undone by executive order…So it would be my intention in the weeks leading up to being sworn into office to engage in a careful, systematic review of each executive action and to rescind every one of them that exceeds the Constitutional and legal authority of the president.”

Yeah, so, The Washington Post's newsletter for influentials got scooped by Breitbart's Matt Boyle two months ago, in what was then termed an "exclusive."

Cruz calls Iran “the single greatest national security threat” to the United States: “On day one, I would expect to convene the national security team for a serious, careful, sober assessment of where Iran stands -– how close they are to acquiring nuclear weapons – and to review every tool at our disposable to assure that under no circumstances does Iran acquire nuclear weapons.”

He’s running “to get a mandate from the electorate” to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service by simplifying the tax code: “I intend to do everything possible to make 2016 a referendum on repealing Obamacare and adopting a flat tax.”

Conclusion: Are Beltway influentials trapped under a rock? If we can get them newsletters, why can't we get them help?

Do Beltway Influentials Need Another 24/7 Valet?

You may have heard that Jeb Bush's campaign is undergoing a troubling "shake-up," perhaps even from The Washington Post's Robert Costa, who reported on the story on June 8. You also might recall how, on the same day, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin reported that the Bush team was busy "downplaying" the "shake-up."

Two days later, The Daily 202 brings the Beltway One-Percenter Set Karen Tumulty's "the Bush camp is downplaying the shake-up" piece. And it's fine. The story is fine. But The Daily 202 wants to draw your specific attention to the fact that she "filed her dispatch at 3:33am" that day.

Conclusion: We are up real late, powerful people. Can we get you anything? You want a Seamless order delivered? Do you need your solarium dusted? Look for us on TaskRabbit!

Do Powerful Washingtonians Like Weird Fixations? Because We've Got Weird Fixations.

From the same Jeb Bush bit:

“Grinder” is the key word in Bush’s comments. Diaz is a relentless attack dog, “a grinder” in Jeb parlance. It’s increasingly clear that Bush’s path to the nomination would require him not just to outshine his rivals, but to destroy them. This could translate into a particularly nasty primary battle, with repercussions for the general.

Do Beltway Influentials Know What A "Washington Post" Is?

The Daily 202 bundles five separate stories -- about topics ranging from Jeb Bush missing his fundraising targets to Paul Ryan wanting to be involved in any pending tax reform bill, to the already-tweeted-about-endlessly news that former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs is going to work for McDonald's -- under a section titled "Get Smart Fast." But all five of these stories had already appeared ... in The Washington Post! So if you wait until this newsletter comes out to "get smart fast," you'll be beaten to the punch by everyone else who got smarter faster.

Oddly enough, what follows from there is a section labelled "WaPo Highlights." What now? At this point in the newsletter, there have been nothing but WaPo Highlights -- 12 of the 13 outbound links sent readers to Washington Post content, the exception being a Los Angeles Times story about Obama re-upping his troop commitment in Iraq.

Wouldn't it be easier to just do a Highlights section labelled, "Also Another Newspaper Did A Thing Yesterday?" (This is a thing that they do later in the newsletter.)

Conclusion: The Washington Post is acutely aware that influentials aren't acutely aware of The Washington Post.

Does This Thing Get Any Sillier?

Oh, Lord, yes. The next section of this newsletter is "Social Media Speed Read," a "partnership with Zignal Labs" that purports to "bring you real-time insights into the 2016 social media conversation each morning." Here is where The Washington Post makes one of the most superbly nonsensical promises about this content that I have ever encountered:

We’ll use special algorithms from the San Francisco-based, cross-media analytics platform to either bolster or debunk conventional wisdom. We’ll also provide cool, exclusive visualizations of that data in this space.

Translation: We are using a super-complicated methodology to bring you content that will definitely help explain your world, unless it doesn't. A convoluted crapshoot that will either penetrate the world of politics, or further obscure it, who knows? There will be "exclusive visualizations" of whatever this stuff is, though!

This is like having a bird feed you stuff it has already chewed up with its beak. "Hey, bird, is this food actually nutritious?" "I guess so? It's just whatever I found on the ground, with my bird mouth." "Cool, cool, I feel so elite, now."

The next section of this tip-sheet envisioned for influentials is "Pictures Of The Day." Some of the pictures on offer include a picture of John Kerry convalescing from surgery, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) celebrating his recent wedding, and an Instagram that made people wonder if President Barack Obama was smoking.

That's followed by a section called "Instagrams Of The Day," despite the fact that an Instagram was already part of the "Pictures Of The Day" section. Among the Instagrams Of The Day are pictures of Bobby Jindal at a baseball game, Ron Paul and Rand Paul wearing baseball uniforms, and some Hillary Clinton campaign stickers. (You have to draw the line on two baseball themed Instagrams if you want to attract Thought Leaders -- that's just science.)

It's really hard to wrap your mind around this. What, if anything, would an "influential" hope to gain from seeing these images? How does the thinking of a powerful person change, knowing that last night was a "great night for a ball game," or that Kerry is "Feeling good a week after surgery?"

Conclusion: The Daily 202 just really needed to pad out the newsletter.

Got One More Fun Fact?

Yep! One of the bylines on The Daily 202 is Elise Viebeck, who I recall writing a hilarious piece for The Hill, that predicted Obamacare premiums were going to "skyrocket" -- in some cases tripling! -- according to anonymous "health industry officials." That story turned out to be one of the biggest howlers in the "Obamacare concern trolling" genre. But the implication here is that in Washington, you can make a complete fool of yourself on the page and yet somehow fall upward to a gig writing "a newsletter for the influential."

The good news is that influential people in Washington do not actually deserve better.

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