“Mike, You Ignorant Slut.”

Politico’s new opinion writers should feel right at home

The Times announced today that former Florida congressman Morning Joe Scarborough will join Politico as one of the website’s first two opinion columnists. The lefty Torvill to Scarborough’s righty Dean will be The Atlantic’s Michael Kinsley.

According to the report, the hirings mark a shift at Politico; a long-expected but long-delayed embrace of temperate Crossfire-style opinion writing by a site that has specialized in fact-based, non-ideological reporting from the nucleus of the Beltway. As the Times puts it, an outlet that has “built a successful enterprise on the idea that there is no such thing as too much information when it comes to political news,” is now “going to apply that concept to political opinion.”

Politico’s John Harris and Jim VandeHei (regular Morning Joe guests along with Mike Allen) wrote in a memo to Politico staff last Wednesday:

Both Mike and Joe will write from an ideological perspective—something our current reporters and columnists do not do—and their work will be labeled accordingly. They’ll both write on what interests them, and will not attempt to coordinate their columns. While they won’t be working in a classic point/counterpoint format (“Mike, you ignorant slut”) they will look for ways to engage each other in conversation from time to time….

You’ll remember that “slut” comment from this Jane Curtin-Dan Akroyd SNL skit. A strange choice of an aside, given Politico’s opinioneers will be coming to us in text.

If you’re going to go down this road, Kinsley and Scarborough are good guys to take with you. Kinsley’s a sharp, humorous cookie; Scarborough, as he will let you know seven to fifteen times in the course of a morning, is not your typical Republican. And he comes with a big fat GQ-sized tick of approval. We look forward to seeing each man’s columns.

However, it does feel a little disingenuous for Politico to claim this is its first foray into opinion. Veiled as “analysis” they may be, but many of the site’s tent pole meme-setting screeds come with a strong whiff of “opinion” no matter which way you cut them. Just Google “Obama” and “Politico” for a bunch of examples.

Here’s “Why Obama loses by winning,” from July:

When Obama came into office, the assumption even among some Democrats was that he was a dazzling politician and communicator who might prove too unseasoned at governance to win substantive achievements. 

The reality is the opposite. You can argue over whether Obama’s achievements are good or bad on the merits. But, especially after Thursday’s vote, you can’t argue that Obama is not getting things done….

The problem is that he and his West Wing turn out to be not especially good at politics or communications — in other words, largely ineffective at the very things on which their campaign reputation was built. And the promises he made in two years of campaigning turn out to be much less appealing as actual policies.

Here’s “Obama’s first year: What went wrong,” from January:

What President Barack Obama needs most is obvious: a new political strategy — ideally one more grounded in the realities of governance than the one he embraced a year ago Wednesday.

And this, from today’s piece, “Rahm Emanuel is no shoo-in in Chicago”:

…Emanuel possesses unusual strengths as a mayoral candidate: He’s run an administration much larger than Chicago’s, has $1.2 million in the bank and a formidable national donor list, commands media coverage and would put together an all-star campaign team.

But he’s hardly a shoo-in.

As White House chief of staff for 18 months, and as a congressman here for six years before that, Emanuel has managed to infuriate national leaders of four constituencies critical to winning the keys to City Hall: blacks, Hispanics, unions and liberals. All, in some form, blame him for personally thwarting their top goals, whether on jobs programs, immigration or the health reform bill.

All of these pieces involve a whole lot of reporting—deep investigation and copious amounts of backstage, hush-hush, “Politico-style” chats—but they ultimately produce an argument. An opinion. And that’s what all good op-ed columns should be: an opinion or argument reached through rigorous reporting, research, and thought.

I hope that Politico’s “first opinion columnists” sales pitch is just that, a sales pitch, and not some indication that Scarborough and Kinsley are set to write the site’s first columns based purely on ideology and introspection. Given the men’s pedigree, we doubt it. These two are certainly not a pair of ignorant, errr…

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.