The Washington Post has been doing some very good work of late. Some of their reporters have been on their game (ie: Dylan Mathews) and Erik Wemple is certainly part of that group. In late November, he researched the big money making, very Beltway elitist Mike Allen's daily e-mail newsletter called "Playbook" and he made a shocking discovery.
One of the hottest issues in journalism today is “native” advertising, the tricks that publishers deploy to elide the domains of journalism and advertising. BuzzFeed has sustained gray-bearded criticism for its boundary-defying listicles. The Atlantic earlier this year ran a native ad from the Church of Scientology that inflamed its audience and prompted an apology and a review of Atlantic procedures for approving ads.Forbes, The Washington Post and the Huffington Post are also experimenting with this approach to funding journalism.
It’s about time that Politico’s Allen got his due as a native-advertising pioneer. A review of “Playbook” archives shows that the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of “Playbook.” The pattern is a bit difficult to suss out if you glance at “Playbook” each day for a shot of news and gossip. When searching for references to advertisers in “Playbook,” however, it is unmistakable. And its practitioner is expanding the franchise. Today, Allen disclosed in “Playbook” that he’ll be collaborating in the production of “Capital Playbook,” a newsletter stemming from Capital New York, the news site that Politico acquired earlier this year.
Mike Allen refused to comment on this post after repeated tries by Wemple. Silence isn't always golden and Allen took a lot of heat over this. Now Erik has found another very dodgy practice from the man who claims to be a journalist.
In January 2013, Allen came up with a Fox News-oriented “EXCLUSIVE,” reporting that Karl Rove had signed a contract to stay with the No. 1 cable news network through 2016. The piece noted that the deal “assures the ratings-leader cable news network that it will retain one of its most popular commentators, and someone whose views continually make news, especially in the heat of a campaign.” It pulled from Rove’s official bio and commended him for “the handheld whiteboard that he uses when discussing electoral math during presidential races.” It omitted the part about how Rove embarrassed Fox News on election night 2012, when he petulantly disputed the network’s decision to call the race for Obama. Eh, old news.
However, when that news was fresh — in the three days after election night — Allen didn’t mention it in “Playbook.”
More from this one-way street, all from 2013: Allen touted this “EXCLUSIVE”: “Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes to receive 2013 Bradley Prize.” Wonder who tipped him off? He aired a Fox News counterpoint to an allegation in a book by journalist Jonathan Alter that Ailes meddled in real time with a Fox News segment. Hepromoted a partnership between Bing.com and Fox News. He quoted extensivelyfrom a Harper’s Bazaar puff piece on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. He picked up a New Republic piece on Ailes touting his plans to appeal to Latinos. And more.
Please read the whole piece to behold the utter hackery of it all. Are you wondering where Politico's bigwigs have been in all of this? After the first few weeks of silence, they started to respond by calling Wemple's charges nonsense. And now they've just called a big powwow with the Washington Post.
Dec. 3, 2013: In an appearance on WNYC, Politico CEO Jim VandeHei calls Wemple’s story “nonsense.”
Dec. 20, 2013: Wemple writes “Politico’s Mike Allen avoids addressing questions about advertisers,” noting that Allen wouldn’t answer e-mails or requests for comment.
So we caught up with Allen following Thursday’s “Playbook” breakfast at the Newseum. When asked how he felt about the piece, Allen said, “I’m hustling out of here” to catch a flight. As he made his way toward the building’s elevators, we pressed for just a short comment. Allen repeated his need to get to that flight, and then he was gone.
Jan. 14 HuffPost’s Michael Calderone writes about the upcoming meeting between the Post and Politico, with a response from Allen about the whole thing.
“Erik’s posts about Playbook are false and insulting,” Allen wrote. “I haven’t responded because his obsessive, anti-Playbook agenda has been obvious for some time.“I have based my career on honesty and trust,” Allen continued. “Over the past seven years, there have been more than 8 million words of Playbooks, including hundreds of announcements from every group under the sun. You could cherry-pick items to make any case you wanted: that I’m a conservative hack, or a liberal tool, or a bad writer or a good guy. I write Playbook 365 days a year because I enjoy it, and greatly respect the readership it has attracted. I make my decisions based on a single consideration: whether the item would serve the audience.”
In an Tuesday night email to Calderone, Wemple responded: “Good job getting a response from Mike about my story. It’s more than I got through many weeks of effort and even a personal encounter. From this point forward, perhaps I’ll work through you.”
Stay tuned for what appears to be a pretty interesting meeting. I wonder how they will get to the bottom of all this grifting? (h/t Digby for the link on the meeting)