Political Animal


December 26, 2012 3:55 PM The Apex of Short Attention Span Journalism

By Ed Kilgore

Everybody’s favorite angry young man, Salon’s Alex Pareene, is at it again with another of his incendiary “Hack Lists.”

This time around, he’s done sort of a hybrid attack on hackish institutions for enabling individual hacks, and it gets a little intellectually messy, as when MSNBC makes the list despite Pareene’s description of Rachel Maddow as “obviously and deservedly a national treasure.” (Alex’s take on cable TV shows is consistently a bit confusing insofar as he identifies the inherent mission of cable political television as the presentation of really stupid entertainment).

But ignore the framing and ranking, and Pareene’s deconstruction of hackishness is both devastating and hilarious. Unsurprisingly, Politico winds up Number One on the latest list, mainly as a vehicle for Alex’s exposition on Jim VandeHei’s and Mike Allen’s 2012 campaign coverage. Gaze in awe:

Allen and VandeHei’s 2012 campaign was a wild roller-coaster ride of shifting narratives, starring campaign heroes and goats who occasionally switched from one role to the other in the space of a few weeks.
On Sept. 11, 2012, Romney was in deep trouble. GOP strategists were alarmed at Mitt Romney’s failure to mention the troops at the Republican Convention. The omission was “‘felony stupid,’ raising ‘a leadership issue, a spine issue’ for Romney.” And Romney was to blame, because unnamed advisers had warned him not to concede national security to Obama.
On Sept. 16, the Romney campaign was in disarray and everything was the fault of strategist Stuart Stevens. The next day, Allen and VandeHei revealed that Stuart Stevens was going to rescue the Romney campaign by talking about the Middle East and getting specific on policy.
On Sept. 19, in a story that literally said the Sept. 16 story “doesn’t matter,” Allen and VandeHei revealed that the Romney campaign’s rescue plan would actually be “more Mitt,” and that more “personal appearances” from Romney would right the ship. On Sept. 28, Allen and VandeHei revealed that the real problem with the Romney campaign was Romney himself, because Romney was a “lousy candidate.” (You’re off the hook, Stuart Stevens.)
Thankfully, by Oct. 4, Mitt Romney was a good candidate again, because he had “transformed himself” into one during the debate. On Oct. 9, it turned out that the Romney family, led by Tagg, had seized control of the campaign from Stuart Stevens, who was the villain again. Once they “let Mitt be Mitt,” things began to turn around.
Finally, on Nov. 4, Allen and VandeHei reported that if Romney were to lose, it would be because there aren’t enough white people anymore, and not because of Stuart Stevens’ decision to focus on the economy, Romney’s personal lack of charisma, or the campaign’s failure to allow the uncharismatic lousy candidate to be himself.
No one reading any of these pieces as they ran gained any genuine insight into the state of the presidential race.

As Pareene shrewdly notes, VandeHei and Allen don’t seem interested in covering campaigns anyway: despite all strict adherence to newsroom conventions and jargon, they aren’t reporting—they are “crafting narrative.” One suspects this is central to a Politico business model that may well have been originally developed by Lord Satan himself. Regular readers of Politico—even those who, like me, find value in many of its non-VandeHei/Allen offerings—probably sense this instinctively, but Pareene performs a useful public service in stacking up quotes to show exactly how mindless and self-contradictory this form of short attention span journalism can become.

It’s interesting that the kind of journalists who seem to gravitate to Politico tend to look down on us despised and impoverished bloggers as “unprofessional.” Compared to VandeHei and Allen, the better bloggers deserve Pulitzers every year. And maybe that’s why Alex Pareene stays so angry.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Helen Bedd on December 26, 2012 4:00 PM:

    I've always been under the impression that Politico's main function is to write stuff that gets them Drudge links, so they can inflate their website visit numbers by drafting off Matt's audience

  • c u n d gulag on December 26, 2012 4:10 PM:

    I so looked forward to Politico, when I first heard plans for it.

    But, then, I also loved the idea of CNN, 24 hours of news, daily.

    CNN, at least, had a run where it was good for a long time.
    Politic was awful the first time I looked at it. I kept going back daily for about a week, before I finally figured out that it was useless as any real source for political news - it was there to spread meme's and CW, and for the profit of its founders.

    Politico is unfixable.
    And Cup O' Schmoe has some clown from there on his DC Village Gossip Fest, every morning. And if not them, then Dan Senor. And THAT'S what makes that show suck - also, Schmoe, himself, of course.

    CNN - get rid of Wolf and King, give Soledad that late afternoon/early evening spot, and you might still be salvageable.

  • Napoleon on December 26, 2012 4:30 PM:

    Completely unrealated I was looking at something on the Pulizier Awards website and clicked to see who makes up the panel who decides and VandeHei is on it. WTF?

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 26, 2012 6:09 PM:

    Blogging. Way better than the idiotic reporting that defines the CO-MSM, which is useless.

  • Omar on December 26, 2012 9:14 PM:

    Pierce has it right...Tiger Beat on the Potomac.

  • Hue & cry on December 26, 2012 11:22 PM:

    Oh, do I agree.
    And Vandehai has always underscored the republican agenda when on morning joe--i've spent his time getting myself coffee in the kitchen. And Allen seems to have the occasional scoop but is never all that profound. Kind of vacuous. Ken Vogel always impressed me, though.
    Short -term journalism is a phrase that nails it.
    Well said, Ed.

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