The apocalypse that is Hollywood gossip guru Nikki Finke may soon descend upon Washington like a dark mushroom cloud. The NYT reports that Politico is “in talks” to bring her on as a political columnist.
Something to wonder about before the bomb hits: Can Politico keep sucking up to politicians as the litigious founder and former editor of Deadline annihilates the lives of so-called powerful figures in the nation’s capital? Is this a relationship that can possibly sustain itself?
Whether his coworkers fully appreciate this reality or not, Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen, who apologized to former President Bill Clinton for asking him questions Clinton hadn’t previously agreed to at a Playbook Cocktails event, is the face of Politico. He’s what the White House wakes up to, as the infamous NYT Magazine cover story reads. He’s what most of political Washington wakes up to as they feverishly check their smartphones for any mention of themselves in his morning Playbook.
All those years. All that buttering up. For what? To be toppled by Finke?
“This is a departure for Politico,” a source familiar with the deal told The Mirror. “They know that and they know that having somebody with strong views is a departure for them and they are willing to try it.”
NYT Magazine writer and This Town author Mark Leibovich is all for it. “I’m for anything that injects discomfort into the system. Especially from a media platform,” he said.
But one former Politico staffer is aghast at the prospect of Finke coming to This Town.
“Nikki is brilliant but she is way more trouble than Politico needs,” the source said. “Who in that newsroom is going to have the spinal fortitude to deal with Nikki and the people she enrages routinely? Do they really want unhinged Hollywood types (including Nikki) screaming down the phone every day? Will they back her up? Let’s hope for everyone’s sake this doesn’t go through.”
That same ex-staffer referred to Finke as “so crazypants.”
When told that some former Politico staffers think a Finke addition could really work and that Politico could function under such drastically opposing viewpoints, the source replied, “WTF? Maybe they just don’t know the raging ball of crazy that is Nikki Finke. And let’s face it, Politico is not exactly safe haven for difficult women.”
But some journalists and media observers think Finke, who graduated from Wellesley, is precisely what Politico and Washington needs.
“I think it’d be good to inject some non-DC blood into an establishment outlet like that,” said Mediaite Editor-in-Chief Andrew Kirell. “Love her or hate her, she’s got a reputation for pissing off people. And in D.C., that is BADLY needed. Especially when it comes to pissing off people in power.”
According to another ex-Politico staffer, Finke might make sense with the new regime under Susan Glasser, who is no wilting flower. “Seems like there’s a new sheriff in Politico-town who doesn’t mind insulting politicians – under the rule of Susan Glasser so Nikki’s hiring would be in-line with Glasser’s POV,” said the source. “Though she’s a curious choice for a political columnist, I wonder what Nikki knows or understands about politics – she certainly knows how to ‘drive the conversation’ which is Politico’s motto, and, most importantly to Politico, drive traffic.”
When informed that Politico President and CEO Jim VandeHei recently remarked that traffic wasn’t their main focus these days, the source quickly called bullshit on that.
“I don’t believe for one minute traffic doesn’t matter to them,” said the ex-Politico employee. “Clearly he’s saying that b/c numbers are down I assume? No one who works with Nikki Finke is ever the better for it, there are LOADS of stories about her! I’d LOVE to see the relationship with Glasser and Finke though. You don’t hire Nikki Finke if you don’t care about numbers/traffic/visitors to the site. You just don’t. That’s the only reason to hire her. Again I ask you, what does she know about politics?”
As it happens, she does have some political experience. After graduation, she went to work for then-Rep. Ed Koch (D-N.Y.) in his Washington office. She went on to work for the AP in NYC, Baltimore, Boston, Moscow and London. Other pubs who have allowed her to darken their doors: Newsweek, The New York Observer, New York, and LA Weekly.
Another longtime former Politico staffer remarked that Finke could work well in the heated, competitive mix. “At least when I was there, Politico was chaotic enough that reporters stepped on each other’s toes and sources all the time. There was a fair amount of plausible deniability and understanding that you couldn’t really control what your colleagues reported.”
Eddie Scarry, who covers media for The Washington Examiner, couldn’t help but bring up the recent revelation that Allen apologized to former President Clinton. “Politico has a sweat-shop reputation but maybe that’s only for the news reporters, and not their columnists,” he told The Mirror. “Roger Simon’s gig seems pretty cushy, actually. Nikki seems to work hard so she could fit in there but she also seems fiercely independent, which may not bode well at a place that values relationships with people like the Clintons (Mike Allen recently apologized for asking ‘unexpected questions’ of Bill Clinton) and the ‘Morning Joe’ crew.”
A Washington editor who has been around long enough to watch Politico’s reputation grow as well as endure its hits approves of the hire. “Hiring her would be an intruiguing move and very different from what they tried with their old gossip column, ‘Click,'” the journalist said. “She doesn’t pull punches, which can be a good or bad thing. How she meshes with the rest of the newsroom [would] be fascinating to watch.”
The Mirror sought comment from Finke, Politico President Jim VandeHei and Politico Editor Susan Glasser.
By far the best part about writing a story about Finke is that you have to actually get in touch with her, which is sort of like poking a wild beast that shoots fire out of its nostrils. I sent Finke an email in the tip section of her website and left my email and phone number. She phoned from an undisclosed number. “Is this Betsy Rothstein?” A half second later, mildly annoyed… “HELLO?” I replied, “Yes, this is her. Who is this?” She asked to go off the record. I agreed. That is, until she began wasting my time. And then I said, “You’re wasting my time. We’re going back on the record right now. RIGHT NOW.” She replied with a click.
The email I sent Finke: “Hi. Was hoping you’d answer one question: Do you think Washington, D.C. can handle your boldness? They are known for sucking up to politicians and you are known for suing people, attacking celebs and sucking up to your friends. You do have an impressive resume as far as journalism is concerned. Would love to hear your thoughts on your prospect of writing for Politico. Writing for today.”
She replied by email, “I have no comment.”
On a personal note, I once referred to Finke as a “gossip guru” (as I did up top) and when her crazy ass complained, I issued a non-apology apology that put her mental health on display. She responded to my “correction” with a middle of the night response: “You’re an asshole.” Unlike Washington’s so-called gossip columnists who hug and tweet cute little irritating niceties at each other, it’s actually healthy for competing columnists to call each other “assholes” as opposed to walking around with arms entwined.
I delight in the prospect of Nikki Finke coming to Washington — and not in a nice way — I’m not above doing my level best to completely piss her off.