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[Washington Babylon]

Politico Not Exactly Virginal on Wall Between Reporting/Money



Politico recently caused a stir with its excellent story about the Washington Post‘s attempt to raise money with “salons” at the home of its publisher. But Politico itself is hardly virginal when it comes to the wall between reporting and chasing revenue.

Last August, it co-sponsored a party at the Democratic National Convention with the Glover Park Group, a top Washington lobbying and consulting firm. Here’s an excerpt from Politico‘s rapturous coverage of its party:

And then of course there was the Politico/Glover Park Group party. It seemed to be the hot ticket last night, spread over two different bars to accommodate over 1,000 RSVPs. And the line to get in most definitely was loooong. But not for Ashley Judd: She went straight upstairs to a VIP area. A quick glance at the bottom floor took in politicos and those they cover: Madeleine Albright, Joe Klein, MoveOn’s Eli Pariser, Obama spokesman Bill Burton (who was last seen sitting on a couch working on his laptop), Dan Pfeiffer and his wife Sarah Feinberg (Rahm Emanuel spokesgal Sarah Feinberg), Pelosi staffer Stacy Kerr, RNC spokesman Alex Conant, Washington lawyer Bob Barnett, former WH’er Dan Bartlett (talking to who could have been his younger brother due to the striking similarities, but was ABC’s Jonathan Karl), Time’s Rick Stengel, MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Bronson, MSNBC journos Dan Abrams — clothes less tight this time — and David Shuster, former HRC head honcho Howard Wolfson, CBS’s Jennifer Yuille, DeLay right-hand lady Shannon Flaherty, communications guy Peter Fenn, lawyer Don McKay, Reid staffer Rodell Mollineau and H’Wood type Danny Strong. Oh! And the heir to Taco Bell, Rob McKay.

This intermingling of celebrities, journalists, and politicians, courtesy of big lobbying money, suggests a cabal of insiders who don’t really care who pays for their partying.

Glover Park’s staff includes a number of prominent figures, including Howard Wolfson and Kevin Madden. Its website describes the firm:

Clients rarely want strategy without tactical execution, or communications plans without strategic guidance. In looking at the communications industry, we noticed a gap: strategic consultants lacked the ability to implement their own plans, and public relations firms who could implement those plans lacked the necessary strategic experience. But by bringing both strategic thinkers and advertising and public relations professionals together, The Glover Park Group has bridged the divide — offering comprehensive client service from the earliest strategic planning to the final execution of advocacy and image advertising campaigns.

Glover Park’s clients have included Pfizer and Coca-Cola, firms Politico reports on, just as it writes on the Glover Park group. Earlier this year, Politico ran this op-ed by Victoria Esser, Glover Park’s managing director. Glover Park linked to the story on its website.

Also, check out the flyer (which appears at the top of this post) advertising Politico‘s Oktoberfest on October 17, 2007, co-sponsored with the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a powerful Washington lobby and also an organization Politico covers. According to a Politico story in April:

President George W. Bush didn’t drink beer, but President Barack Obama does, which means that Craig Purser, president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, is a happy man. “We’re definitely pleased to see him enjoying a cold one,” Purser said in a POLITICO podcast. “It’s great to have someone who understands and enjoys the product.”

Purser admits that lobbying on behalf of alcohol can be a sweet gig. “I’ve got a very good job,” he said. “I enjoy working and representing America’s beer distributors. … We do represent a product that is one of celebration, that brings people together and that makes it fun.” Still, “there are days, however, when it truly does feel like work.” The NBWA held its annual legislative conference last week, and Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Kevin O. McCarthy delivered keynote addresses. “We have 127 members of Congress that have been sworn in in the last 26 months,” Purser said, and the NBWA has focused on catching them all up to speed on the group’s issues.

Here’s an interesting 2006 USA Today story about the group:

When Congress returns Nov. 13, one bill likely to get a vote is a small measure to curb underage drinking. But the bill before the House is much different from the version lawmakers introduced last year.

Gone are sections that urged the NCAA to ban alcohol ads during sportscasts and that called alcohol “the most heavily used drug by children.” Added is a sentence that could help beer distributors fend off challenges to state regulations that require them — and only them — to transport beer to retailers. The National Beer Wholesalers Association, a little-known but influential advocacy group, takes credit for the additional line and worked with the alcohol industry to delete the other sections. The beer group’s political action committee (PAC) is one of the top givers to congressional candidates for the Nov. 7 elections.

Politico‘s Oktoberfest event was held at the Rayburn Cafeteria in the House, and was by invitation only. Mike Allen, Politico‘s chief political correspondent and author of several of the pieces busting the Post, urged reporters to attend because its marketing department had spent a lot of time organizing the affair, according to an email I have.

I’ve been told of numerous instances where Politico editors aggressively courted advertisers and also that it reports on defense and Wall Street extensively in hopes of winning advertising dollars from those sectors (obviously not only for that reason). Might that have some impact on Politico‘s reporting?

I emailed Mike Allen today to seek comment about the Democratic Convention and Oktoberfest events, asking “Doesn’t that sort of thing have an impact on Politico‘s news coverage? You guys aggressively court advertisers and advertising dollars. That’s part of business, but how is this different from the Washington Post’s efforts with its salons, etc?”

Allen sent a courteous reply, putting me in touch with Kim Kingsley, Politico’s media director. I emailed and called Kingsley. She wrote about an hour ago promising a reply “in just a second.” I have not received the reply yet, but will immediately update this post when I do.

Update: I just spoke with John Harris, Politico‘s editor-in-chief. He said:

I strongly don’t accept your interpretation that the Post‘s salon events and the items you mentioned are equivalent in any way. These were essentially social events, not journalism events, organized by the business side. There was no business conducted [at them]. What raised questions about the [Post] events was turning over the news operation for non-news purposes, and promising special interests they would be connected with newsmakers in a policy-making setting.

I don’t want to be name-calling with the Post, which I’m an admirer of. What troubled me about the salons and [other similar events held by other media outlets] is that you had an organization essentially advertising itself as an escort service. There is nothing wrong with advertisers sponsoring events but they need to be transparent, not an off-the-record setting.

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