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Hullabaloo


Friday, July 12, 2013

 
Wall Street values in This Town

by digby

Walter Shapiro cuts through the juicy gossip and gets to the larger point of the Liebovitch book:

The larger message of This Town is the sad-eyed truth that, ultimately, everyone sells out. The money quote for Leibovich is former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s honest explanation, “Washington is where the money is. That’s generally what keeps people here.” That comment meshes with my favorite aphorism about dewy-eyed young aides “coming to Washington to do good and staying to do well.”

Everyone’s convictions and contacts can be bought or, at least, rented. Leibovich quotes former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney calling former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt “a powerful voice for working families.” But Leibovich archly notes that after giving up his House seat in 2005 to become a lobbyist, “Gephardt has become a powerful force for Dick Gephardt on issue after issue.” Ditto for former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd who disdained the idea of lobbying until he was offered a $1.2 million job as the head of the Motion Picture Association. Then there’s Jeff Birnbaum who was an ace reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post covering the lobbying beat until he became (wait for it) a high-priced lobbyist. As Leibovich puts it, “Birnbaum joining a lobbying firm was an extraordinary passage, akin to Bob Woodward joining a White House staff.”

I don't know if it's featured in the book, but I recall my own appalled reaction when I read this about "journalist" Richard Wolffe, after he published one of the definitive "inside the campaign" books about the Obama administration:
When the election ended, the Newsweek brass offered him a new job. Not the White House beat – a natural extension of his campaign coverage – but, he said, “a blog, no less.” He describes the genre in his book as the equivalent of “fried and fast” food, as compared to his own more nutritious “slow food.”

Wolffe took a Newsweek buyout instead. He said he “never talked to [the White House] about a job.” He wrote through the winter and early spring, and on April 1, he announced that he’d taken a position under former Bush communications director Dan Bartlett at Public Strategies. Wolffe said in an interview that he wouldn’t trade on his relationships with Obama and his aides in his new post.

“I do not lobby – I offer strategic advice to clients on how to interact with the public, whether it’s their stakeholders or public opinion,” he said.

Wolffe also continues to write and report for Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, and to offer his opinions on MSNBC, which identifies him as a political analyst, though he said he won’t talk about issues related to the firm’s clients.

And he suggested he’s not that different from other reporters in an era in which the business and the profession of journalism have gotten closer and closer.

“The idea that journalists are somehow not engaged in corporate activities is not really in touch with what’s going on. Every conversation with journalists is about business models and advertisers,” he said, recalling that, on the day after the 2008 election, Newsweek sent him to Detroit to deliver a speech to advertisers.

“You tell me where the line is between business and journalism,” he said.

There you have it.

As far as I can tell Wolffe is still considered a member in good standing of the journalism profession. He's still on MSNBC shamelessly shilling for power. Glenn Greenwald, on the other hand, is nothing but a blogger --- maybe even a traitor.

Which brings me to this incredibly interesting article in The Atlantic about the Guardian. It's all very fascinating, but this piece may explain something about why it is more intrepid and brave than the rest of journalism:

The paper enjoys the financial cushion of a large trust, which was set up in 1936 to carefully invest the fortune of the paper's most famous editor CP Scott. In its current form, the Scott Trust Limited is now the sole stakeholder in Guardian Media Group, so the paper has no shareholders nor a Rupert Murdoch-like proprietor; instead, any profits from the assets held by the group are used to maintain -- and propagate -- the newspaper operation. In essence, it is a journalistic perpetual-motion machine, one with exceptionally fortunate investment properties which managed to lose relatively little of their value during the financial crisis.

This is the financial grounding which enables the publication's experimentation. They have a very successful dating site in the UK -- Guardian Soulmates. They were ahead of the website curve, and have experimented very successfully with tablet and mobile apps.

I'm not sure how to replicate such an arrangement. But I'm glad that it exists. As long as the Richard Wolffe's of the world are what passes for journalism, it's vitally necessary.


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