As a co-founder of the Note and a former Hotliner and an unindicted co-conspirator in several other endeavors - and now as someone who moved away from the moment-to-moment grind, I want to take a moment to discuss Mark Leibovich's much-discussed profile of Politico Brand X / senior political correspondent Mike Allen.
In this incarnation
of Mike life, he is fulfilling a space that powerful decision makers do
need -- they want curated aggregation because they don't have time to
read 100 pieces a day, much less the time to choose those pieces. (I
would much rather have Mike aggregate for me than Matt Drudge.) They
share a sensibility with Mike. Indeed, it is a transactional
I don't know whether President
Obama reads the Playbook. I do know, thanks to selected White House
leaks, that he's fond of long magazine articles and profiles, and
thoughtful bloggers, and Ron Brownstein's analysis. The president's
staff may need curation, but the man himself has different curatorial
Mike's reporting/aggregating/curating is useful to a
subset of people, and it's also transparent in its motivations and
intentions. And despite the fact that it merits a New York Times
magazine cover story, despite the fact that it may influence morning
meetings at TV networks, there are many other sources of influence.
Chuck Todd has more influence over how politics will be covered on the
NBC Nightly News that Mike Allen. (Allen might influence Morning Joe's
coverage, but then, Morning Joe's audience is Mike Allen's audience --
so who is influencing whom?)
Mike's powerful voice is
one among many. Heck, a well-written New York Post headline can drive
entire news cycles even today. So can a Glenn Greenwald column about
Elena Kagan. So can, as I discovered, a late night blog post about some
dumb remark Harry Reid made.
Politico, in fact, recognizes its
reputation for policy coverage is not great, and is in the process of
hiring folks with policy heft. John Harris and Jim VandeHei have
transformed their industry by figuring out how to monetize what
Brownstein calls "snowflake" coverage -- the type of "breaking news"
that dissolves by the time it hits the ground. They've also built a
locker room full of excellent, if occasionally underutilized reporters.
Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin, two friends, are anything but
sycophantic in their coverage. Smith is particularly inventive.
(Disclosure: I had an informal chat or two with "VandeHarris" about
joining Politico when it was still the Politico.)
This is not a binary
thing. You can appreciate that there is a small circle of insiders who
like to know where Mike Feldman was AND at the same time be critical of
that circle's insularity AND respect that similarly situated human
beings (powerful DC decision makers) will share a common culture that
Mike is chronicling. AND -- my fourth and -- understand that access
journalism is but one style of journalism, and by no means the only
style of journalism worth doing and validating.
A few words about Mike
Allen himself: he's every bit as unusual and sympathetic as he comes
off in the piece. He's whip smart about policy, having spent years as a
beat reporter in Virginia and Washington, D.C. He knows his stuff --
he's not writing about the intersection of politics and policy without a
And this is not meant as a knock against
Mike, but as a way of pulling everyone out of a trap: as influential as
Mike is, and he knows this, a page one New York Times story by Peter
Baker on a subject will set the agenda far more than Mike's daily
messaging will. The White House understands this, too.
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.