The Media Once Again Refuses to Answer Questions From the Media


Personally, I’ve never really understood the appeal of Mike Allen’s “Playbook”—or any of the other morning briefing newsletters. Why would reporters deliberately read something whose explicit goal is to make sure that everyone is saying and chasing the same stories? This has never made any sense to me.

That’s not really the topic of this post, though. I just wanted to get it off my chest as a prelude to the latest example of the press going into full stonewall mode whenever they’re the ones a story is about. Today, Erik Wemple reported the results of a deep dive into the contents of Playbook, and it wasn’t pretty: organizations that advertise with Allen, such as the Chamber of Commerce, get an awful lot of friendly mentions that are presented as straight news. Does Allen do this as part of his deal with his advertisers without telling his readers, or is there a more innocent explanation? We’ll never know:

Politico’s leaders didn’t cooperate for this piece. In rejecting a sit-down discussion, Editor-in-Chief John Harris said the premise “is without merit in any shape or form.” Without an interview, it’s impossible to judge Allen’s motivations. For example, does he write nice things about the chamber because he wants more advertisers or because he feels their agenda doesn’t get fair play in other outlets? Did he publish those BP plugs because he thought they were newsworthy or because he’s got a friend at the company?

Of course Harris refused to say anything. It’s standard journalistic practice. It’s only other people who have to answer questions. It’s outrageous to expect news organizations themselves to do the same.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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