Meanwhile, in the wake of Politico breaking the story of John Edwards’s $400 haircut, Salon media columnist Glenn Greenwald (who’d previously accused Politico of colluding with right-wing gossip-monger Matt Drudge) called the publication “Exhibit A for our broken political press.” Later, Greenwald used some color from a Politico post-debate write-up to sharpen his critique: the story described Frederick J. Ryan Jr., Politico’s president and CEO, escorting Nancy Reagan from the event, and identified him as chairman of the Reagan Library’s board of trustees. Given Ryan’s political loyalties, and the conservative bona fides of owner Robert Allbritton’s family, Greenwald concluded, it’s hard to take Politico’s claims of nonpartisanship seriously.
Harris won’t have it. “I just emphatically reject” allegations of pro-conservative bias, he told the Phoenix. “The idea that we are organized around a conservative world-view — I don’t even know where to begin. It just simply does not resonate with me in any way.
“I know my own values and my own point of view,” added Harris. “I know that’s not true in terms of what our intent is. Maybe they’re not even saying what our intent is, but what the impact is. But I just don’t buy that.”
So, what to make of the vast discrepancy between Harris’s take and that offered by its critics?
At the outset, it’s worth noting that Politico also has its critics on the right, though they’re either less numerous or less vocal than are their liberal counterparts. After the Reagan Library debate, for example, syndicated columnist/Clinton hater Dick Morris spoke of a “deliberate act by Politico.com and MSNBC . . . to hurt Rudy.” Tony Blankley of the Washington Times said Politico’s questions were “ridiculous.” And the conservative media watchdog NewsBusters didn’t like them much, either.
Another take: if Harris and Co. really want to win over their left-leaning critics, they could start by nixing future appearances on the CNN program of Muslim hater/global-warming-denier/lowbrow conservative Glenn Beck. Yes, Politico needs to hustle to sell itself; no, not all publicity is good.
Now, consider this. Might allegations of conservative bias simply suggest that, when it comes to the gamesmanship of politics — which seems to be Politico’s real passion — Republicans tend to be more skillful than Democrats? If Bill Clinton hadn’t gotten his White House blow-job, we’d be debating Al Gore’s presidential legacy right now. If John Kerry hadn’t windsurfed, we might be discussing his re-election prospects. Yeah, the Edwards-haircut story was superficial. But Politico’s item isn’t the problem. Edwards getting the haircut is.
Breaking down barriers
Another aspect of Politico’s nascent identity is worth mentioning — namely, a desire to collapse the distance between journalists and readers. “I think stories should be just as interesting as talking to a reporter,” says Harris. “In my experience, reporters are often more interesting to talk to than they are to read, and I don’t want that to be true in our stories. . . . I don’t want us to write with an austere, voice-of-god style that’s more typical of a classic daily newspaper, because I just don’t think that’s our niche.”