Washington Babylon — July 16, 2009, 10:43 am

Politico’s Parties

My piece earlier this week on Politico received some interesting commentary (and I’ll be discussing the article today with Glenn Greenwald, for his podcast at Salon). Columbia Journalism Review wrote an item emphasizing the defense offered by Politico‘s editor-in-chief, John Harris, who said the Washington Post was essentially acting as an “escort service” in seeking to arrange its “salons” and differentiating that from the events hosted by his own publication that I reported on. “Harris’s response makes some strong points, which to my mind place Politico’s events much higher up the slippery slope governing media sponsored events than the Post’s scrapped attempt,” CJR wrote.

I agree. I don’t believe Politico‘s events were anywhere near as troubling as the Post‘s, which were flat out corrupt. But I do think that it’s very difficult for Politico to host parties with a trade group and a lobbying organization, as I reported, without it raising issues about how it covers those groups.

Harris’s defense of the Politico events was far more interesting than the one mounted by Glynnis MacNicol of the new site Mediaite, whose embarrassing media power rankings, as Jeff Bercovici recently noted, rate Rachel Sklar — Mediaite’s editor at large — as the 142nd most notable media personality, higher than, among others, New York Times Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet, who came in at 184. MacNicol writes:

If events which provided free food to the media — and in my short experience they almost always do — were outlawed one suspects very few people would manage to make the contacts that sometimes lead to the important stories…

Here’s the other thing about drawing attention to that particular Convention party: it was one of many. And by many we mean a lot. The Democratic Convention (actually the GOP, too) was comprised of some convention floor speeches and a whole lot of social events — thrown by media outlets — in which celebrities, journalists, and politicians all mingled, ate, drank, partied, and got aroma-therapeutic arm massages together. This non-exhaustive list includes the HuffPo Oasis, which offered free spa treatments and snacks; the CNN Grill, which offered free everything; a big Slate party, where all sorts of machers mixed; and the big-ticket Vanity Fair/Google party. Those were just the big ones. Politico’s shindig was only unusual in the sense that they held it in two locations four blocks apart so all of the attendees spent their time being paranoid that the better party was happening at the other locale. I would bet that very few people at any of these parties — and by my count at least half were in the media — had any idea who was footing the bill. And yet, it’s probably safe to say some good, solid reporting — and contacts — came out of that week.

MacNicol–who is essentially re-writing a Sklar piece defending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner–doesn’t actually point to much good reporting that came out of the Democratic Convention. Nor does she explain why reporters can, in her view, only apparently produce good reporting if they also wine and dine for free all week with the people they are meant to be covering. (I don’t know if the ABC team that produced this report attended a lot of free food events, but if they did it didn’t facilitate their exposure of the parties MacNicol is so fond of.)

As to MacNicol’s own hard-hitting reporting from the convention, check out this report she filed, literally, from bed.

Also, here’s another cutting edge story from Mediaite , on how some media personalities share names with porn stars. Solid work.

Also, full disclosure: I have lived in Washington since 1993 and can’t remember the last time (or any time, but maybe I forgot one or two) I went to one of these politico-journo events. I don’t like parties much to begin with and would rather spend time with my kids. But a friend invited me to a reception for the new movie “Adam” tonight and I hope to make it, especially so I can try to get Rose Byrne’s autograph for my daughter.

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