For top Politico brass, the best defense looks like more offense:

Kingsley, the Politico executive vice president, e-mailed me an unsolicited defense: “In my experience, the people who whine about working at Politico shouldn’t be at Politico,” she wrote. “They likely lack the metabolism and professional drive it takes to thrive here. For those of us who love a fast pace and a tough challenge, this place is a calling, not a job.”

[Co-founder John] Harris readily acknowledges that Politico is “not for everybody,” and [co-founder Jim] VandeHei said they have begun focusing their recruiting on New York, because “the city produces reporters who are fearless, fast and ruthlessly competitive.”

Yeah. We’re pretty soft here in Washington. Taking a break now.

Okay, I’m back. It’s also unsettling to read about the odd, almost passive role Politico seems happy to be playing. It’s a bit of a paradox, when you think about how hyperactive the place is.

Just as many sources talk to Woodward because they assume everyone is, the White House will leak early talking points to Allen because they know that, for instance, Dick Cheney seems to have made Allen the go-to outlet for many of his criticisms of the current administration. Like Woodward, Allen can be tagged with the somewhat loaded moniker of “access journalist.” Clearly the political and news establishments love him. The feeling is mutual and somewhat transactional. They use him and vice versa (“love” and “use” being mutually nonexclusive in Washington). He seems to know everyone and works at it.

Allen may be the “go-to outlet,” but that doesn’t make it good journalism. I remember seeing this Politico story last year, and wondering about it:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney accused President Barack Obama on Tuesday of “trying to pretend we are not at war” with terrorists, pointing to the White House response to the attempted sky bombing as reflecting a pattern that includes banishing the term “war on terror” and attempting to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

“[W]e are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe,” Cheney said in a statement to POLITICO. “Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society.”

They posted his statement in full, but without any follow-up questions.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that DC sources are happy with that format. But should Politico go along with it?

Political operatives I speak to tend to deploy the word “use” a lot in connection with Politico; as in, they “use” the publication to traffic certain stories they know they could not or would not get published elsewhere. I was also struck by how freely VandeHei threw out the word “market” in connection with how newsmakers and sources interacted with Politico. “If you want to move data or shape opinion,” VandeHei wrote to me by e-mail, “you market it through Mikey and Playbook, because those tens of thousands that matter most all read it and most feed it. Or you market it through someone else at Politico, which will make damn sure its audience of insiders and compulsives read it and blog about it; and that it gets linked around and talked about on TV programs.”


The Times piece nicely captures why Allen has become a star in this environment. “[K]nown as an unfailingly fair, fast and prolific reporter,” he hated it when editors at The Washington Post, where he used to work, told him they didn’t have space for his stories. But he “struggled to write the front-page analytical stories that were the traditional preserve of newspaper ‘stars.’ Harris, who wrote many of these during his 21 years at the Post, says that the whirling production demands of today’s news environment have caught up to Allen’s sleepless, spaceless peculiarities.”

The business side is happy, too.

While most Playbook subscribers live around Washington, significant numbers work on Wall Street, in state capitals and at news and entertainment companies on both coasts. Major retailers (Starbucks) and obscure lobbies (Catfish Farmers of America) pay $15,000 a week to advertise in Playbook, a figure that is expected to rise.

Ka-ching! Encouraged by its success on the national politics front, Politico’s parent company is set to launch a local Washington news site soon.

Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at