Washington Babylon — June 7, 2010, 9:25 am

Jim Messina: Cracks in the “Mr. Fix It” Image

I wrote an item earlier this year about the journalistic practice of the “beat sweetener,” namely writing fawning profiles of top political officials in the hopes of currying favor for future stories. I dubbed as “the most egregious beat sweetener of the Obama years” a profile of Jim Messina, deputy White House chief of staff, by Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post.

“The story was one of those classic Washington suck-up pieces that get written about political operatives dating back to Lee Atwater, through James Carville and Karl Rove, and continuing with Rahm Emanuel, which invariably attributes near superhuman powers to these partisan functionaries,” I wrote at the time. “Kornblut’s piece on Messina cited a series of friendly sources raving about Messina’s genius and even credited him with single-handedly bringing down the Bush Administration.” The title of the story: “For Obama’s Political Knots, He’s the ‘Fixer’,” which became the standard narrative of almost every journalistic account of Messina.

But now Messina has stepped in it, as senior officials will predictably do from time to time, and the media is, just as predictably, shooting down the image of Messina that it previously helped construct. Viz, this story from Politico, which ran last Friday:

Jim Messina is usually the one who has to clean up a mess at the Obama White House, not the one who makes it.

But the disclosure this week that Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff, presented three government job opportunities to try to convince a potential Senate candidate to drop a Democratic primary challenge in Colorado is fueling a Republican effort to tarnish President Barack Obama’s image as a political reformer.

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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