D.C.’s “Most Popular Friend:” Mark Halperin Mike Allen

You can now read, at nytimes.com, Mark Leibovich’s how’s-he-do-it? profile of Politico’s Mike Allen and Allen’s Very Important Morning Email “Tipsheet,” “Playbook.” Hey, remember the New Yorker’s how’s-he-do-it? profile, circa 2004, of ABC News’s Mark Halperin and Halperin’s Very Important “Political News Digest,” “The Note?”


Back then, Halperin was considered “the leading purveyor of inside dope” with “The Note,” which was written in a “runic argot,” “appear[ed] on the ABC News Web site each weekday morning by eleven o’clock [!],” and contained “polling data,” “dirt,” “arcane statistics,” “wire reports,” the guest lists of Georgetown dinner parties,” and “leaks and scuttlebutt.” Today, “Playbook,” an “esoteric chronicle,” is the “the principal early-morning document for an elite set of political and news-media thrivers and strivers…an insider’s hodgepodge of predawn news, talking-point previews, scooplets, birthday greetings to people you’ve never heard of, random sightings…around town and inside jokes.”

In 2004, the New Yorker’s David Grann mused:

Perhaps the ultimate consequence of “The Note“‘s style of political coverage is not the trivialization of important stories but, rather, the inflation of trivial ones.


Today, “Playbook”/Politico, former McCain chief-of-staff Marc Salter tells (has to tell?) the Times, embodies “the trivialization of news.”

Could we get a pull-quote-worthy comment from someone close to the profile subject/publication colorfully distilling who/what they are?

Said Paul Begala to the New Yorker in 2004: “The president has the P.D.B, the Presidential Daily Briefing. For everyone else in Washington, Halperin and The Note are our version of the P.D.B.”

Said Politico’s Jim VandeHei to the Times’s Leibovich: “Playbook is D.C.’s Facebook. And Mike’s the most popular friend.”

For now.

UPDATE: What does D.C.’s “most popular friend” do on Friday nights — if, in Leibovich’s telling, fleetingly? A creepy description (which really could have appeared, almost exactly, in the 2004 Halperin piece):

On a recent Friday night, a couple hundred influentials gathered for a Mardi Gras-themed birthday party for Betsy Fischer, the executive producer of Meet the Press. Held at the Washington home of the lobbyist Jack Quinn, the party was a classic Suck-Up City affair in which everyone seemed to be congratulating one another on some recent story, book deal, show or haircut (and, by the way, your boss is doing a swell job, and maybe we could do an interview).

McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, arrived after the former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie left. Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren had David Axelrod pinned into a corner near a tower of cupcakes. In the basement, a very white, bipartisan Soul Train was getting down to hip-hop. David Gregory, the Meet the Press host, and Newsweek’s Jon Meacham gave speeches about Fischer. Over by the jambalaya, Alan Greenspan picked up some Mardi Gras beads and placed them around the neck of his wife, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who bristled and quickly removed them…

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.