Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

December 6, 2010

THE SECRET OF HALEY BARBOUR'S (MEDIA) SUCCESS.... I've long wondered why Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) enjoys so much adulation from the D.C. media/political establishment. In general, he doesn't really fit the bill -- he's a right-wing former corporate lobbyist with a background on racial issues that could generously be described as "awkward."

But reporters just seem to love him. Lloyd Grove noted the other day that Barbour "enjoys the friendliest relations with the Washington media elite of any prospective candidate vying for the Republican nomination," and sought to explain why. It appears to have something to do with Barbour giving the impression that "he actually relishes reporters' company."

That warm, fuzzy feeling is reciprocated -- more often than not on a first-name basis.

"It's not Haley's politics, although his pragmatism so outweighs his partisanship, he looks like Gandhi in our current political atmosphere," says Bloomberg News columnist and Daily Beast contributor Margaret Carlson, a doyenne of the Washington media-political complex. "He's the Republican Ed Rendell -- genuine, approachable, loves what he's doing and makes you love it, and him."

As a political reporter for The Washington Post back in the mid-1990s, I too fell under Barbour's spell, growing to appreciate his apparent openness, tactical savvy, self-deprecating charm -- and generous supply of Maker's Mark in his handy RNC liquor cabinet.

Grove's piece is fascinating, but it doesn't exactly cast D.C. political reporters in the best light.

NBC News' Chuck Todd, for example, praises Barbour's style: "I think there's definitely an old-schoolishness about him that Obama doesn't have -- maybe a bridge to the three-martini lunch, something from back in the good old days which reporters now know nothing about." An unnamed veteran Washington political journalist told Grove that Barbour, gearing up for a presidential campaign, may face less heat for having been a corporate lobbyist because adoring reporters will be more inclined to give him a pass.

Barbour hasn't even announced yet, but thanks to his D.C. background -- which includes a stint as RNC chairman -- he's already charmed the media, at least in part because he's offered journalists plenty of alcohol over the years.

For those concerned about a cliquish media establishment making things easier for its favorite politicians, this will likely set off alarm bells. And it should. It's unfortunate when this media dynamic kicks in, but it's worse when media professionals prove to be cheap dates.

As for whether Barbour can capitalize on this in a likely national campaign, the answer isn't necessarily obvious. McCain was the media's darling in 2000, but it wasn't enough to get him the nomination. More than a decade later, the Republican base hates major news organizations even more, so Barbour's cozy relationships with reporters may even backfire with primary voters.

Still, reporters' fawning over the guy, whether it helps or not, should be unpleasant to watch.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share

I'm wondering how many black reporters are charmed by Barbour?

Posted by: T2 on December 6, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

How are his barbecueing skills?

Posted by: Patrick Star on December 6, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Rest assured, if there's an R after the name, the media will be charmed

Posted by: SaintZak on December 6, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Good Ol' Boy Barbour can schmooze with the booze, and Sister Sarah titilates with a wink and the promise of virtual sex. For reporters of both genders, apparently that is enough to make a thrill run up their legs.

Harder to figure is the contemplated presidential run of John (Got Milk?) Bolton.

Posted by: DAY on December 6, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm wondering how many black reporters are charmed by Barbour?"

Juan Williams.

Barbour's main problem isn't just that he's a crook, but that he comes across as a crook.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on December 6, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Margaret Carlson was also charmed in various ways by Fred Thompson. Some reporters get juiced by more than martinis and "authenticity". Haley Barbour's problem is something like Fred's. His old-school charm looks more at home in The Dukes of Hazzard than the hypercritical eye of the 24/7 news cycle. He almost looks - and sounds - like a parody of a corrupt politician. And hello! Mississippi? Really?

Posted by: walt on December 6, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Barbour, with his good ole boy accent and carriage, comes across as a real-life incarnation of the Boss Hogg character in The Dukes of Hazzard.

In this political climate, that's a feature, not a bug.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on December 6, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

...and Walt and I were thinking the same thing...

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on December 6, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Barbour, Christie, Rendell...reporters love fat bellicose white men who "speak their mind," no matter how stupid they sound.

Posted by: Matt on December 6, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Certainly gives you an insight into the provincialism of the small company town that is the DC press corps. They like to think of themselves as Lords of the Media, but they're really gullible hicks, susceptible to the condescension of the nearly great.

I mean, THIS is what passes for La Marquise de Merteuil in DC:


Posted by: Steve Paradis on December 6, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

The above folks are right about the way Barbour comes off. The American people are not going to elect Boss Hogg president. President of the Confederacy, maybe. But not the U.S. of A.

Also, doesn't his name seem a little...French?

Posted by: NHCt on December 6, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

It's easy to be charmed by someone when you're not looking to criticise them. Dem pols won't get the same treatment, no matter how hard they try.

Posted by: royalblue_tom on December 6, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone have an answer to the right wing media bias that we're experiencing now? Who can we complain to since media is big time coporate and right wing? Somehow we need to go after the Citizens United decision and get it overturned and we have to get fairness back in the press.
If there is a group you all know of that is persuing this, please let us know.

Posted by: maggie on December 6, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

I'd say, other fat and fat-headed racist white guys like him a lot! Is that a good thing? Well, no. This time a broad brush is really all that is needed. Why mess with a masterpiece?!

Posted by: Trollop on December 6, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

He may certainly be a charmer, but America has been reluctant to elect a fatty president since Taft. Perhaps with gastric bypass or one of those belt thingys? Even with surgical weight loss, serious health questions would remain.

Posted by: bos'n on December 6, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

I would also guess that he is a source and provides them with stories and access. If you feed them, they won't bite you.

Posted by: Objective Dem on December 6, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Haley Barbour isn't going anywhere. From Think Progress 9/2007 after Guiliani said Barbour would be at the top of everybody's VP shortlist:

Family members and lobbyists profited from Katrina tragedy: “Among the beneficiaries are Barbour’s own family and friends, who have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from hurricane-related business. A nephew, one of two who are lobbyists, saw his fees more than double in the year after his uncle appointed him to a special reconstruction panel.”

Owned controlling interest in 2002 New Hampshire phone jamming company: For nearly two hours on election day 2002, subcontractors for the telemarketing firm GOP Marketplace tied-up Democratic and union phone banks with repeated hang up calls. Multiple GOP officials eventually either pled guilty to or were convicted of criminally violating federal communications law. Barbour’s investment group, Helm Partners, was not only a major investor in GOP Marketplace, but it also held a controlling interest in the firm.

As a lobbyist, he represented firm indicted in Tom DeLay’s money laundering scandal: As a lobbyist for Barbour Griffith & Rogers, Barbour represented The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Inc., “a corporate coalition of 14 of the country’s largest for-profit nursing home companies.” The Alliance wrote a check for $100,000 “ended up illegally funding Republican candidates for the Texas statehouse” in 2002. The check was eventually used as evidence in the case that led to indictments for money laundering against former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX).

A former tobacco lobbyist, he killed Mississippi’s successful anti-smoking program: From 1998 to 2002, Barbour’s lobbying firm “was paid a total of $3.8 million by the tobacco companies.” As governor of Mississippi, he led an effort to defund and ultimately kill the state’s anti-smoking program, considered to be “the nation’s most successful anti-smoking programs.”

Directed large amounts of reconstruction funds to wealthy homeowners: Barbour and Mississippi’s two Republican Senators steered an “unprecedented” $23.5 billion in federal reconstruction aid, but by waiving a HUD requirement that “70 percent of the funds are supposed to be allocated to low- and moderate-income people.” Barbour “badly skewed” the funds towards “wealthy homeowners,” with only 25 percent reaching “the poorer segments of the population.”

Posted by: markg8 on December 6, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Haley Barbour will NOT be the next president of The United States.

The contest for the republican nomination, and thus the next president, will come down to a contest between the candidate of the angry Americans (Sarah Palin), the candidate of family values (Mike Huckabee), the candidate of family values from the intellectual wing of the party (Newt Gingrich), and the candidate of all of the wings of the party (Jeb Bush).

As Jeb Bush is beloved by the social conservatives, the neocons, and the wealthy wing of the party, he will become the next president.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on December 6, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

1- charming the media was McCain's old game too... how'd that work out?
2- HB is going to have a hard time pointing to Mississippi and saying "Let me do to America what I did to Mississippi".

Posted by: jjdaddyo on December 6, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Right now, Romney is the next GOP nominee (and president, too). It's always fun to speculate about improbable events but when was the last time someone came out of nowhere to win the GOP nomination? Probably 1940 with Wendell Wilkie. Is there enough Bush nostalgia, latent and actual, to cause a boomlet for Jeb? If so, it's not apparent.

Posted by: walt on December 6, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

While that I agree with all the posters above stating that Boss Hog would not make it even out of New Hampshire in the VP race, I believe that he is a natural VP candidate. He has untold political connections, great relations with the DC press, outstanding fund-raising prowess, and he's shown himself willing to take on the traditional VP attack-dog role. Sure, he's a fat, squinty-eyed racist; but that's a net plus with the southern confederate state GOP voters. (NB: I am from Atlanta, if that last part just hit a nerve with anyone).

Posted by: Rathskeller on December 6, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK


After the "I'll bend over- please do me again" press non-coverage of our current Marxist Potus you have the audacity to complain of press fawning.

Anyone, as in anyone, would be a better POTUS than Obama, the worst President , by far, since Carter.

Posted by: tom on December 6, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

re Walt...

You are full of crap if you think that our republican base will allow the nomination of the non-Christian, Morman sect member Mitt Romney.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on December 6, 2010 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Most reporters have always been morons, going back to the character assassins Thomas Jefferson used to hire when he decided he didn't like John Adams. It was only the fact that about ten of them managed to have the brains to see early on what was going wrong in Vietnam, and that two of them (one today grown into a drooling idiot) were willing to "follow the money" and bring down a criminal presidency, that today the profession has any undeserved respectability outside of their own whorehouses and saloons in D.C. That these otherwise-unemployables would think that a goddamned Mississippi Confederate traitor like Barbour is a good guy because he has a three martini lunch with them shows just how wretched these "ink-stained wretches" really are.

Posted by: TCinLA on December 6, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. So a good ol' white Southern boy with properly aged liquor in his liquor cabinet makes the media swoon?


Posted by: Lynn Dee on December 6, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

If we had reporters who were not lazy and who would actually look into his record in Mississippi, there would be a completely different picture emerging. Far from a centrist who plays well with others, Barbour is an aggressive ideologue who prefers party power over progress and winning over problem solving. But the press is lazy and only reports on what they hear or already know. By the time we have a nominee in each party they will start gathering information, but by then the narrative will already be written by the party activists.

Posted by: vickijean on December 6, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Aww jeezz. I had hoped Bubba the Hutt was out of national politics. I seem to remember he has some issues with bad fundraising from the Chinese when he was RNC Chairman, and has a racist history as long as yer arm, in addition to the above enumerated sins.
I suppose his working of the Washington Press corps is similar to Karl Rove's wooing of David Broder with quail dinners, except with booze.
One thinks of a poem about British Journalists:

"You can never hope to bribe or twist,
thank God, the British Journalist;
and seeing what a man unbribed will do
there's scarcely an occasion to."

Posted by: MR Bill on December 6, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Awright boys, who wants a ride on the tire swing!"

Posted by: Michael on December 6, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

It would appear that the most effective way to scmooze the DC media is also the simplest: free booze.

Posted by: bucky on December 6, 2010 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Never forget that DC is a SOUTHERN CITY. And it has the values of the South as dominant. Remember how the 'society' folks in the town hated Clinton because he had black friends?

The town cringed because of a black man's family in the White House, and some pretty horrible things have been said by the press about him and them. (I recall them reporting on people who said such things as the Obamas are 'trash in the White House.")

They jumped all over Obama, who was trying to explain his health care proposals, because he labeled the arrest of Prof. Henry Louis Gates in his own home 'stupid'.

They have wasted a precious national resource: our time, our attention. And they have COMPLETELY neglected to offer clear exposition of the issues: it's all one big video game to them.

What irks me the most is the new quirk in news reporting that mandates that each and every story, published while it is still unfolding, has to include instant 'opposition' within it. Such as the NYT report on the stately funeral of Edward Kennedy that 'he has his critics, too: Ann Coulter calls him 'a drunken fat slob.'" (Look it up, it happened.)

What is this pseudo method? You can't have an instant critical view of something that has barely just occured or has not yet finished happening.

This is the media's deepest cancer and it has ruined our press and over ability to govern ourselves.

Posted by: jjm on December 6, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Grove's piece is fascinating, but it doesn't exactly cast D.C. political reporters in the best light.

You don't say.

Then again, neither did McCain's notoriously self-serving chumminess with reporters, and while it helped his trainwreck of a campaign to be taken far more serioudly than it deserved for far too long, it still didn't wind up working out for him the way he'd hoped.

Posted by: Gregory on December 6, 2010 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

To be slightly fair...
McCain's chumminess with the press waned about the same time as he started tacking hard right in 2001 when he planned to run in 2008. (I was truly impressed he could change his core beliefs so thoroughly and profoundly at will. Or is that "horrified"?)

Hostility towards the "liberal media" was part of the plan to prove himself truly conservative and not uncomfortably mavericky.

If Barbour can maintain Straight Talk II throughout his campaign, it could make him a less nauseating nominee than your average Republican.

What are the odds he can stay open with the press and not come off as a likely national disaster? I can't say. It'd be a pretty novel approach to the White House if he could manage it without stepping in something along the way. There may be good reason why no nominee can keep it going past New Hampshire.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on December 6, 2010 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Mississippi resident here.

Barbour will run, and will probably drop out before the first primary. This doesn't even qualify as an open secret down here. It's practically a parliamentary formality--he's just renewing his Important Republican Insider marker.

I'll be amazed if he even sets foot in New Hampshire or Iowa. He has zero interest in campaigning, nor should he--he's just about the biggest fattest oldest drawling-est goodest-ol'-boy walking stereotype you've ever seen. Which I'm sure works for him, but he doesn't need the grief of trying to appeal to any audience too big to fit around a mahogany conference table.

Posted by: Matt on December 6, 2010 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly