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BOTH SIDES NOW: Is DC 'Dysfunction' Due to Cocktail Parties or Tea Party? Enter Bezos

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By Mark Green

Arianna and Ron Reagan discuss what's wrong with Washington as seen through Leibowich's #1-selling This Town: Money/media insiders? Radical right who hate Obama and government? Can Bezos's money & tech be a WashPo life-preserver? And did you know about Orion's big supernova?

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Arianna and Ron are not political opposites but rather a bi-coastal duo with different vantage points about power in The City of Consequences. She focuses more on the CW of Mark Leibowich's social circuit while he thinks that the Far Fright is sabotaging This Town. Then the "Queen of Digital" (Radio Ink) talks about The Washington Post and whether billionaire owners of print are saviors or Trojan Horses.

On the DC Media-Money Complex. This Town is the latest and biggest version of "they came to do good and stayed to do well." It was a fun read of so many put-downs it was impossible to put down... but does it describe a major phenomenon in what's making Washington "dysfunctional"? Is it all that different from the socializing of Civil War DC as described by Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals?

Arianna, who's been to a few White House Correspondents' Dinners, thought that the book "had validity because there is a class of cozy lobbyists and it's the way that conventional wisdom congeals. For example, how did it happen that politicians in Washington came to believe that deficits were more important than jobs or that we should stay so long in Afghanistan? It's not the partying but the collusion that [converts] some ideas into accepted wisdom."

Ron agrees: "Yeah it's always been this way but even more so now with even more money and the new 24 hour media environment that puts a blowtorch to this gasoline. The problem is that officials seem not to care about the real-life consequences of their actions or inactions, other than their electoral consequences."

You can't ban partying so is there any corrective here? Ron: "They can pass a law leveling the money-playing field in elections and slow the revolving door" that saw 5 percent of members 20 years ago end up working as lobbyists versus 50 percent today.

On DC's New Nullifers. Leibowich doesn't mention another theory of why Washington is so unproductive, namely a GOP far more extreme and obstructionist than anything 'this town' has seen since, well, the 1850s. Or as Barney Frank once put it (quoted in Jonathan Alter's The Center Holds), "We're not perfect but they're nuts."

Ron, citing Bob Dole, thinks that Reagan, Nixon and Dole "would not have been allowed in today's Tea Party. My father, for example, signed a rather liberal abortion law and had a bracero program [and wouldn't sign a law barring gay teachers]. And the argument that there are extremists in both parties is wrong. They have people who don't believe in evolution. Who are the extremists in the Democratic Party - Bernie Sanders? He's very reasonable when he talks, unlike the Bachmanns and Palins."

Arianna agrees that many of that cadre are extreme but "they're an irrelevant sideshow. I'm more concerned with the sober middle who are misguided on policy. What makes people on the other side who are smart miss what's really happening [on the economy, on student loans]?"

The Host asks: What middle? Aren't those Republicans stampeded by accelerants like Fox News so they become a far right base that dictates to nervous if smarter Republicans? Arianna doesn't disagree about the base but emphasizes the leadership "who buy into what they're hearing in the cloakrooms." How crazy is it for them to be talking about shutting down the government over Obamacare and the debt-ceiling this fall? Is the party of Lincoln a new House-divided-against-itself since the Cruzs and Pauls are pushing a shut-down while Romney, Ryan, Cantor, Krauthammer are not? Arianna thinks that a shut-down would be so counter-productive and unpopular that, in the end, it won't happen.

Ron compares the GOP negotiating position to the tactic of Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles when he puts a gun to his head and announced that if anyone moves, "this n---er gets it!"

On Jeff Bezos as DC's Life-Preserver. Will people look back on this week as when it become irreversible that print media went into decline given the sale of The Washington Post, cut-rate sale of the Boston Globe, re-sale of Newsweek?

Arianna is "glad he bought it as a way of putting together a great newspaper with great technology. A new hybrid for the future that combines the best of both is good for everyone and good for the Post." Do we think he's coming into this with A-plan or just a hope of coming up with another breakthrough like Amazon? She can't say what's in his head but is confident that "he understands both platforms and consumers as well as anyone."

But exactly who the wealthy buyer is makes a big difference. Ron discussed how the Koch brothers have expressed interest in buying the Chicago Tribune, with its LA Times and TV stations, but, unlike Bezos, have a history pushing their economic interests "like lying for years about climate change."

Host: So WHY did Bezos buy the Post? Probably because it was more challenging and fun than buying a van Gogh for the same price.

The Bezos development is of course not entirely new. Murdoch is a multi-billionaire who has bought or grown losing print properties like the New York Post and Wall Street Journal; more recently, Chris Hughes bought The New Republic. But the scale of Bezos's $25 billion fortune and the brand of the historic Washington Post is different. It may well prove to be a template of money and technology that can keep intact the best of print journalism -- sustained investigations, in-depth reporting -- with the energy and personality of web news. Of course, there was AOL-Time Warner...

And Arianna adds not to count on the "Bloomberg Times" anytime soon given the Sulzberger family's adamant denials they're for sale and their real progress on-line (not the mention that MB "detests" the Times, according to David Remnick Sunday morning on This Week.)


Neither Arianna nor Ron put any credence into Laura Ingraham's argument that one factor in the decline of these brands is that they pandered to the shrinking "secular progressive" market. As law professor Paul Freund once put it, "to the jaundiced eye all looks yellow."

Arianna adds that, of course the Huffington Post cares about religious readers as well, noting the growing audience of the Religion Section. The website is a bottom-line business that, like Steve Jobs, tries "to anticipate what people want without even knowing it." Host: Was an international web newspaper part of the original vision in 2004? "Co-founder Ken Lerer and I had big dreams of being a national news source but that was not something that we then envisioned. Yet now 40 percent of our audience is global and, after we launch in Brazil, India and South Korea, it'll be 50-50!"

Quick Takes: Booker, A-Rod, Betelgeuse. Arianna thinks that Corey Booker has a great future because "he's a passionate leader who also understands how to use technology to help the poorest among us." Ron thinks that Alex Rodriguez's 211 game suspension was fair because of how willful and often he violated rules against steroids rules and was particularly irked by his valet in the clubhouse.

Last, Reagan's radar includes his breathless discussion of how our sun is switching polarities and the huge Betelgeuse star in the Orion galaxy1500 light years away may have experienced a supernova that we'll see for months in the night sky sometime soon, i.e., within a few days or hundred years. Far out!

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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