Politico's Chronic Case of Scoop Envy

For a publication that routinely scoops the competition, it's startling to see Politico's dismissal of well-sourced stories published elsewhere.

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For a publication that routinely scoops the competition, it's startling to see Politico's dismissal of well-sourced stories published elsewhere. Today, an article by Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei and chief White House correspondent Mike Allen inflamed media critics by suggesting that lengthy stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post criticizing Mitt Romney were promoted by the papers while damaging stories about Barack Obama were underplayed. Are we to believe Politico would thumb its nose at a Romney-was-a-gay-bully scoop?

The outrage over the story has come in many forms. GQ's Devin Gordon called the article a "business" decision to smear the political coverage "of Politico's biggest rivals." The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, a former Politico reporter, called it a "classic Washington beat-sweetener, the type of piece reporters write to curry favor with and access to potential sources." New York's Joe Coscarelli called it sucking up to Romney and The American Prospect's Paul Waldman cited the piece as evidence that GOP has gotten to Politico.

Setting aside the never-ending debate about mainstream media bias, what's disturbing about the story is the apparent disdain Politico holds for heavy-lift, well-researched stories that come from outside its Arlington, Virginia headquarters. At its opening, the article suggests the "big spread" and "front page" placement of Trip Gabriel's New York Times story on Ann Romney's love of dressage was over-played. Ditto for Jason Horowitz's Washington Post's story, "another front-pager." One of the problems VandeHei and Allen seem to have with the pieces is that they're longform. They write of Horowitz, "the 5,500-word account was invested with far more significance than it merited," while the word-count of Gabriel's piece gets dropped into this sentence: "The 2,300-word piece raises the possibility that Mrs. Romney was aware that a horse sold on her behalf was injured worse than advertised."

The parts of the stories that the two Politico editors are upset with were a fraction of the word counts. And yet, it's bizarre to think Politico wouldn't find a way to cover either of them -- though likely in shorter form than Horowitz's extensive context about life at Romney's high school -- if they had gotten to the scoops first. As Politico readers know, they did publish numerous follow-up stories on it. So it's worthwhile to heavily aggregate but not place on the front page? And though Allen and VandeHei dismiss it as a reportage from "high school nearly a half-century ago," unsavory stories about a candidate's early life have always been fair grist for Politico. Admittedly, the paper probably wouldn't have spent as much ink on Ann Romney's horse-riding hobbies as The Times did but it's certainly never shied away from over-publishing when it comes the inane hobbies of Washington's elite.

But more importantly, this isn't the first time Politico has dismissed the solid reporting of others while championing its own "win the morning" ethos. This type of hypocritical navel gazing was all over Mike Allen's last e-book The Right Fights Back. As Slate's Dave Weigel pointed out in April, the book went to great lengths to champion its own work while denigrating other stories. For instance, Allen spent two pages proudly explaining the Herman Cain sexual harassment scoop:

POLITICO eventually found six people who knew details of the tense encounter... within a week, at least half a dozen women were making allegations to reporters across Washington... Martin did not want to confront Cain while there were other reporters standing around outside the bureau...
The book went on to castigate the rest of the media for being "so slow to catch on." But when it came to a scoop by The Daily Caller about Michele Bachmann's migraines, there was a different tone:
Dirty tricks and underhanded attacks are part of politics... someone told the Daily Caller, a conservative website, that Bachmann was subject to incapacitating migraine headaches... the health rumors were exaggerated, her campaign manager, Keith Nahigian, told us.
Later, the book admits Bachmann "did take medication to control her migraines," which is kind of strange, as Weigel notes, "given how the story was just a dirty trick played on a conservative website." One would think, five years after the paper was launched in 2007, with all the laudable scoops it has gotten, its top editors would be able to comfortably acknowledge the work of its competitors.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.