John Harris | Media Matters for America

John Harris

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  • Howard Kurtz, please define "transparent"

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Yesterday, Politico published a navel-gazing piece by editor John Harris, explaining the decision to allow reporter Jonathan Allen to return after a brief stint working for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- roughly a month. Harris wrote that one of his concerns in taking Allen back was that "it seemed likely that Allen's brief tenure with a Democrat might open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans."

    As I pointed out yesterday, it's a little odd that Harris would write such a line about someone with twenty years of work as a reporter and one month working for a member of Congress without noting that another Politico reporter, Jonathan Martin, worked on a Republican gubernatorial campaign, two congressional campaigns, and spent more than three years working for a Republican member of Congress. Martin left his job as press secretary to Rep. Rob Simmons in October 2005 and joined Politico upon its January 2007 launch.

    Well, today, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz praises Harris' piece. After quoting both Allen's own explanation for his decision to return to journalism and Harris's concerns about bringing him back, Kurtz writes:

    While television has practically obliterated the line between party insiders and pundits, I do think Republicans--and Politico readers--might be wary of someone who was so recently in the employ of a Democrat. But I give Allen and Politico major points for transparency.

    Kurtz, like Harris, is concerned about a reporter who was "so recently in the employ of a Democrat." And Kurtz, like Harris, doesn't say a word about Martin. Keep in mind: Allen has twenty years of experience as a journalist, and a month of working for a member of Congress. Martin, on the other hand, came to Politico barely a year after spending more than three years with a Republican member of congress and working on at least three GOP political campaigns. And not only does Kurtz fail to mention Martin while expressing wariness about Allen's one-twelfth of a year working for a Democrat, he actually praises Harris for "transparency" after Harris omitted any mention of Martin. Incredible.

    (Speaking of transparency: Harris and Kurtz were colleagues at the Washington Post before Harris left to start Politico.)

  • At Politico, 1 month of working for a Dem outweighs 3 years with a Republican

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Politico's John Harris has a weird navel-gazing article about Jonathan Allen's return to journalism -- and Politico -- after a brief stint working for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Actually, it's about Politico struggling to decide whether it should take Allen back -- not because of doubts about his skills as a journalist, but because they feared a month working for a politician would irrevocably taint him:

    It was a couple of weeks ago that we heard from Allen again. After a month on the job, he decided he had made a mistake. He concluded that his talents and temperament were those of a journalist, not an operative. He wanted to come back to POLITICO, if we would have him.

    Ugh, again. Two thoughts were immediately at war: "Damn right, we want him," and "I'm not sure we can take him." Some critics would say he was too compromised by his brief sojourn in politics - in which he publicly aligned himself with Democrats and made a modest contribution to Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln - to return to straight reporting. I wasn't sure the critics were wrong.


    I have no doubt about Jonathan Allen's ability, or my own ability, to separate personal or ideological views from reporting.

    But I am enough of a traditionalist to be wary of the revolving door between politics and journalism. And it seemed likely that Allen's brief tenure with a Democrat might open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans. I viewed this as a matter of perception, not of reality.

    So, Harris didn't have any doubt about Allen's ability to separate his personal views from his journalism, but worried that hiring a reporter who had a month of experience working for a Democratic politician might "open us to shots at our fairness by Republicans."

    Huh. Seems like a good time for Harris to mention that Politico reporter Jonathan Martin previously worked for a Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate, two Republican congressional campaigns, and a Republican congressman, for whom he worked for more than three years.

    But Harris never mentioned Martin. Weird.

  • Politico's Harris dishonestly mocks Obama's SOTU

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Politico's John Harris mocks President Obama's State of the Union health care comments:

    His tepid rallying cry: "As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed."

    That just isn't honest. That line -- quite obviously -- was not intended to be a "rallying cry." This is a "rallying cry":

    I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber. (Applause.)

    And this is a "rallying cry":

    Here's what I ask Congress, though: Don't walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. (Applause.) Let's get it done. Let's get it done. (Applause.)

    You can tell those lines are the rallying cries from the words, but you can also tell from the fact that the rallying cries were met with applause.

    But Harris wanted to call Obama's comments "tepid," so he picked a relatively mundane line and falsely claimed it was intended to be the speech's "rallying cry."

    That's obviously inane; you can make any speech look tepid if you select its most mundane line and pretend it was mean to be a soaring call to action. Here, let's apply the John Harris technique to another famous speech: Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech was tepid -- just look at its rallying cry: "In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check." Wow, that's a bland rallying cry!

    You can use such tactics to belittle a speech, but you shouldn't -- because it's completely dishonest.

  • Politico reporter forgets Politico's role in pushing Michelle-Obama-as-liability storyline

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Politico's Jeanne Cummings on MSNBC about half an hour ago, discussing Michelle Obama's popularity:

    She's doing much better than what people thought. There was a time during the campaign in 2008 when lots of Republicans thought that Michelle Obama could become some sort of liability.

    Hmmmm. I don't remember that sentiment being limited to Republicans; I remember a lot of reporters expressing it as well. Reporters like ... Jeanne Cummings Politico colleagues. Let's fire up The Nexis, shall we?

    Jim VandeHei & John Harris, Politico, 3/17/08:

    The GOP has proven skilled at questioning the patriotism of Democratic candidates. Just ask John F. Kerry, defeated presidential candidate, and Max Cleland, defeated senator, if such attacks work in the post-Sept. 11 political environment.

    They will blend together Wright's fulminations with quotes of Michelle Obama saying her husband's candidacy has made her finally proud of America with pictures of Obama himself sans the American flag on his lapel (the latter a point that has thrived in conservative precincts of the Web and talk radio).

    In isolation, any of these might be innocuous. But in the totality of a campaign ad or brochure, the attacks could be brutal, replete with an unmistakable racial subtext.

    Glenn Thrush, Politico, 8/25/08:

    Plastic bags stuffed with big M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E signs are being loaded into the Pepsi Center for a prime-time speech by would-be first lady Michelle Obama. Her tasks are twofold: to introduce herself to the convention as a strong-willed, nonthreatening surrogate who has always been proud of her country - while portraying her Barack as a messy, absent-minded, regular dad who likes playing with his daughters when he's not out inspiring the millions. How she is received could determine how much she is used on the road this fall.

    Mike Allen, Politico, 8/25/08:

    Michelle Obama set out to reassure voters Monday that she would leave the governing to her husband and would not be a domineering White House presence.

    Nia-Malika Henderson, Politico, 3/28/09:

    Traditional? Hardly. In fact, Obama's approach so far is decidedly different from the usual model of the modern first lady - pick a platform of two or three issues and stick to it, by and large, for four years.


    Yet in the midst of all those themes, it isn't yet clear whether her self-described core messages - about military families, volunteerism, and helping working women balance work and family life - are truly breaking through. Some wonder if she's spreading herself too thin to emerge in the public mind as a leading voice on those topics.


    [F]or some, Obama's multi-tasking approach to the job raises the specter of Rosalynn Carter, who was dogged early on by questions of whether she was taking on too much and trying to be all things to all people. Ironically, some are raising the same "too much, too fast?" question about Michelle that they're raising about her husband, the president.


    As for her more official three-issue platform, branding expert Hodgkinson said that for Obama, "the broader mission is to install herself in the psyche of the country and then after that take a look at what does she then wants to advance and can reasonably advance. "

    Military family issues might not be the right fit, she said.

    "When you think about military families it's not a connection you first make with the first lady," she said. "Without that natural pull, it's going to be a harder campaign especially if people's ears are turned elsewhere."

    But now that Mrs. Obama has proven to be quite popular, Politico's Jeanne Cummings wants you to think it was just the Republicans who thought she'd be a liability -- just forget all about what Politico wrote about her.

  • Stop the presses... Politico (cartoonist) hasn't been soft on Cheney

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Politico has been in the hot seat in recent months for, as MSNBC's Chris Matthews put it earlier this week, serving as a "hot line" for Dick Cheney, saying, "[h]e uses you like you'd use Drudge or somebody."

    The pressure has been so intense that Politico editor John Harris was forced to offer up a lame defense of his publication's stenography services for the former Vice President.

    All is not lost however. One Politico employee wants us to know that he hasn't been pulling any punches when it comes to Bush's former number two. In fact, so seemingly upset by the spat of negative attention hovering around the beltway rag, this enterprising soul sent an email to Romenesko to straighten things out once and for all. Did I mention he's the cartoonist?

    I kid you not.

    The email from Matt Wuerker to Romenesko follows:

    I couldn't help but have my fragile cartoonist ego hurt by the building beef out there about the Cheney coverage by Politico.

    As part of the slowly shrinking tribe of editorial cartoonists, it's hard not to be a little thin skinned these days, so it pains me to have to point out myself that at least in my little corner of Politico (which runs off our home page) I don't think Cheney's getting a free ride. The bloggers that are all howling about how we're so clearly in the tank for Cheney seem to not read down toward the bottom of our homepage.

    To bolster my case I'm attaching three examples from just this past year. I have many more going further back. I know that my little cartoon corner doesn't have nearly the reach that Mike Allen does, but still, even ink-stained wretches hate to be completely overlooked.

  • Politico editor offers misleading defense of Cheney stenography

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The Plum Line's Greg Sargent gets Politico editor John Harris to defend Politico's uncritical copying-and-pasting of Dick Cheney's attacks on the Obama administration. But Harris's defense doesn't hold water.

    Harris writes "[I]t seemed to me that the people who found Cheney's comments most objectionable were the ones who found them most newsworthy." What does that even mean? That the people who found Cheney's comments objectionable objected to them, which means they were noteworthy? That's incredibly circular. Further, Harris is ducking: He ignores a key aspect of the criticism of Politico, which was not merely that Cheney's comments didn't deserve attention, but that Politico failed to place them in appropriate factual context.

    Next, Harris suggests that it's ok that Politico uncritically passed along Cheney's attacks because other Politico articles filled in some of the gaps:

    If you look at the other stories we ran at the same time as the Cheney quote there was a Josh Gerstein piece leading the site comparing Obama's response to Bush's after the 2001 shoe bomber and debunking the notion that Obama's response was more sluggish. We also had a piece looking at GOP politicization of national security.

    If anyone should be aware of the need for individual articles to stand on their own, it should be a Politico editor. How many people sit down and read Politico cover-to-cover? Somewhere in the neighborhood of "none," I'm guessing. If it was ever adequate for a news organization to pass along unfiltered partisan attacks in one report, then add the necessary context in other reports, that time is long gone. It simply doesn't reflect the way people consume news.

    Finally, Harris offers this:

    Trying to get newsworthy people to say interesting things is part of what we do. Also in December we had a long Q and A with the other prominent former vice president Al Gore. That story might also have looked to some like providing an uncritical platform if you viewed it only isolation.

    Another misleading dodge. The Cheney article that drew criticism wasn't the result of a "long Q and A." It was based on what Politico described as a Cheney "statement to Politico." A press release, in other words. Which Politico reporter Mike Allen dutifully copied-and-pasted in its entirety. It isn't a "Q and A" if the person providing the A doesn't face any Q.

  • Politico badly wants to waste your time

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    You'd think Politico would have something more important to splash across their front page than a write up of some new book nobody cares about. But no:

    Now, first of all: by "Monica's back," you might assume Politico means Lewinsky has written a book, or launched a speaking tour or something. No. Politico means that several months ago, Lewinsky gave a written comment to the author of a book that is coming out soon. Uh ... a little less "newsy" when you put it that way, isn't it?

    Next, you may wonder how something can be the "first definitive history." How can there be more than one definitive history?

    But then, if you're silly enough to read the article -- as, unfortunately, I was -- you see junk like this:

    Confirmation of a long-rumored romantic affair between Clinton and McDougal, an Arkansas woman who spent 18 months in jail for refusing to answer questions from Starr's prosecutors before a grand jury, and later received a presidential pardon from Clinton. Gormley writes he is now certain "some intimate involvement did occur," though he will not say precisely how he knows it to be true.

    Uh, Politico? That's totally not what the word "confirmation" means.

    It gets dumber from there, with Politico breathlessly revealing that Robert Ray wanted to indict Bill Clinton (we already knew that) and that Ken Starr's office prepared a draft indictment of Hillary Clinton (knew that, too) and ... Well, who cares, really?

    If the article has any redeeming feature, it is this:

    Clinton retorts: "They were disgraced and he [Hyde] knows it. They ran a partisan hit job run by a bitter right-winger, Henry Hyde, who turned out to be a hypocrite on the personal issues....Yeah I will always have a asterisk after my name but I hope I'll have two asterisks: one is 'They impeached him," and the other is 'He stood up to them and beat them and he beat them like a yard dog.'"

    The "them" in question has, of course, has always included the media that fanned the flames of impeachment. And they're still not over it.

  • Media still bored by Obama press conferences

    ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    Following President Obama's April 29 press conference, media figures on all three major cable news channels and elsewhere asserted that the press conference was "boring." Several commentators had similarly concluded that Obama's March 24 press conference was insufficiently entertaining, echoing Matt Drudge.