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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I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

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I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

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