It seemed the entire Politico Playbook breakfast was leading toward a question sure to make the right-wing media’s heads explode in validation today. “Does the media lean left?” asked Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen, allowing panelists to respond with only a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
Maybe a better question: Do ducks quack? All four panelists replied, “Yes.”
But all four also stressed that major context was needed to explain their answers. They got their chance to elaborate. Allen’s no scrooge on that front.
On the panel were four of Washington’s top reporters: NYT‘s Mark Leibovich and Peter Baker, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and CNN’s Jake Tapper.
After all four journalists replied “yes,” Tapper was quick to say, “Before I get tweets about this, I’m not talking about every reporter out there.” At which point Leibovich piped up and razzed him a little. “To be sure, later in the panel, Tapper revisited the statement,” he said. With a certain degree of disdain, Tapper said Media Research Center President Brent Bozell would be sure to have a field day with this. “The four yeses are going to be taken by Brent Bozell and that’s the end of it,” he said.
In an effort to explain their one-word responses, they all swept over the same terrain – that Washington journalists need to get out of town and talk to real people, have real world experiences, acquire a few evangelical relatives and work a minimum wage job at some point in their lives.
But let’s get specific.
Pointedly asked for his largest critique of Politico (since he equated it to a dog’s breakfast in This Town), Leibovich addressed what’s wrong with Washington media in general. “It amplifies the insider-dom that I think can be a dangerous part of what we do here,” he said. “The media, the leading thinkers. One of the many reasons [it is] seen as being out of touch with the rest of the country is the group think that goes on here.” On the dog’s breakfast, Leibovich said, “Dogs eat breakfast. I eat breakfast.”
Baker, who was sandwiched between Allen and Leibovich, leaned back in his chair and joked, “Should I step back here?”
Leibovich was sure to add, “I don’t think Politico alone drives that by any sense. In a sense, the business model for Politico is to be ESPN for politics.”
Tapper, who is often exalted by right-wing media as one of the few fair, unbiased reporters in Washington, had this to say: “It’s always weird to me when conservatives praise how tough I was on Obama when I was a White House correspondent because the Bush people hated me. At least 25 percent of the time they [Obama aides] returned my email. That was not the case with Bush.”
Leibovich answered his “yes” without hesitation. He explained how different Washington is from the rest of the country. “None of my neighbors are evangelical Christians,” he said, also noting that the parents of the children who attend school with his kids are not pro-life.
Tapper expanded on the sheltered theme. “There are a lot of experiences that reporters, editors in Washington D.C. have not had,” he said. “When there is an awareness of it, the best kind of journalism can happen. But it’s not just that the media leans a little bit left, but [with] most publications you can get a sense of what the editors are thinking. You don’t see a lot of coverage of faith, poverty, troops. It’s about experiences.” Added Leibovich, “And lifestyle.” Tapper continued, “I think there needs to be more getting out of our comfort zone.” Baker, meanwhile, stressed that he doesn’t vote. “The issue of bias… the bigger bias is the bias toward conflict, sensation, the quick and easy and the simplistic. That’s our bias and that’s what we have to fight everyday.”
Media bias aside, Allen posed a final question: What’s their advice for young people on how to succeed in journalism, in D.C. and life?
Tapper: “The two things I say is learn how to be a print reporter before anything else. And work really, really hard and realize that rejection is 95 percent of the job, but the 5 percent will get you where you want to go.”
O’Donnell: “Enjoy that you know the technology but have regard for what experience gives you — lots of mistakes along the way, lots of learning.”
Leibovich: “I would just say get out of town. This Town (laughs). The whole ephemeral buzz of having a Twitter following is something you can do later, but live your life.”
Baker: “What I tell people is embrace new technology, new possibilities but hold on to the old values of journalism.”
Photo above courtesy of Politico.