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Posted at 12:17 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

The Politico- N.Y. Times food fight

By Jennifer Rubin

Dana Milbank has a good summary of the pseudo-scandal involving Politico reporters' e-mails. It started with a Capitol Hill aide the public has never heard of -- Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) -- passing e-mails of reporters (including a couple from Politico) the public has never heard of to a reporter/author the public has never heard of. And this is a top story of the day for Politico and the New York Times. Such is the state of journalism.

As Dana aptly put it, "The episode makes everybody look bad." But the reasons everyone looks bad are not the obvious ones most are obsessing over. Oh my, staffers don't keep journalists' e-mails in confidence. Shocking. Oh mercy, reporters suck up to staffers and make deals to get information. Stunning. The mock horror is a bit too much to bear.

There are, however, at least a few less-remarked-upon portions of this tale that are worth discussing. First, we are told the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza first stumbled upon the story while doing a piece on Issa. But he kept it to himself. Huh?! Dana tells us that the pattern of e-mail indiscretion "wasn't his focus, but word spread via journalistic pillow-talk after Lizza mentioned it in conversations." So it was hot gossip but not good enough for the piece? And to make it even weirder, Lizza now tells Politico it really IS a big story. Then why didn't he break it?

Then there is the fit being thrown by Politico's editors. Granted it's not nice to forward other people's mail, but explosive reaction and the outrage seem a bit much, no? Politico itself reported on a letter John Harris sent to Issa:

"The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances," Harris wrote. "As the editor-in-chief of POLITICO, my concern is heightened by information suggesting that POLITICO journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.

Harris also asked Issa whether the contents of e-mails or phone calls involving POLITICO or other journalists were shared with journalists from other organizations.

Well, now we see. The red light is flashing: "Damage control!" How bad do those e-mails make Politico's reporters look? If the reaction is any gauge, pretty bad.

So the story is framed in just such a way -- an astounding breach of ethics -- by the outlet that at bottom is concerned about its own self-image. Quite a house of mirrors. And by the way, why doesn't Politico have an ombudsman to at least attempt to police itself?

Then the next chapter becomes the New York Times, which has had an ongoing rivalry with Politico in the way San Francisco and Los Angeles have a rivalry. (New York Times/San Francisco looks down on Los Angeles/Politico with a surplus of disdain, yet obsesses over its every utterance. Los Angeles/Politico sees San Francisco/New York Times as a quaint relic of a bygone era.) So the New York Times piles on with much finger-wagging. And we are off to another round of who's-the-coolest-political-reporters-inside-the-Beltway.(Hint: neither, especially if they keep this up.)

Self-absorption to the point of parody? Check. Thinly-disguised "news" stories that serve journalists' own personal or business interests? Check. Evidence that "journalistic ethics" is taking on the status of an oxymoron? Check. In the world of celebrity journalists, it's perhaps to be expected that some news reporters and editors have come to regard themselves as the story, or, at the very least, to become convinced that their concerns and woes as the most fascinating part of the story. (Hence, hours of Anderson Cooper's knock on the head in Cairo.) For people in the business of providing "context" and "perspective" that's a pretty big character flaw.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 2, 2011; 12:17 PM ET
Categories:  Media  
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Both the NYT and Politico promote liberal narratives more than they impartially report facts. Politico is just an electronic version of the NYT's political coverage. The latter is a dying dinosaur, the former a little weasel-like creature supplanting it. Both share the same ecological niche, the sliver of Americans who want their political news with a liberal spin.

Posted by: eoniii | March 2, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Beautiful piece Jen! But @ eoniii, that's not such a thin sliver of Americans, at least not here in New York. But we can hope for the future: not long ago I was in my college's library one afternoon, and I happened to see a big pile of copies of that day's issue of the one time "paper of record", left out for any student (I guess actually anyone at all) to help themselves to a free copy. To judge by the height of the stack, not too many had bothered to pick it up for free.

Posted by: mikem23 | March 2, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse

What is the world coming to when the Republican money boys who started Politico to shape the narrative on an hourly basis can't trust an aide to a Republican Congressman with a shady past.

Posted by: oldabandonedbeachhouse | March 2, 2011 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Politico Politico: that bug is nasty. The readers are dying for a fix, man. But the names in this story are downright confusing! Issa "Lizza" "Alyssa" with a Z? That's Ryan's secret.

Posted by: aardunza | March 2, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

A matter of which neither Darrell nor the other brother Darrell will speak! Their lips are sealed; but Dana will bank on the millstone being around someone's neck for sure.

Posted by: aardunza | March 2, 2011 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Ethical Damage Richter Scale:

Fwd an email you've been sent 0

Fwd an email marked confidential 2

Promise confidentiality but fwd 4.8
email anyway

Posted by: Chazzle | March 2, 2011 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer's last point is the best. The journalism profession has always been obsessed with itself, and the weight it gives to 'stories' that directly involve them have long made this obvious. Whether it's Milbank creating his own story arc about his Palin diet, to O'Reilly talking endlessly about his Obama interview, fictional reporter Aaron Altman's caustic observation of "Yes, let's never forget that WE are the story" continues to be a relevant cautionary, but mostly ignored, warning. Beyond resulting in just about every kind of compromise imaginable, the self-absorption is ugly on its own merits.

Posted by: mbcnewspaper | March 2, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

This affair redefines the words "abstruse" and "recondite." Talk about inside baseball! Who the *&#! cares about any of this?

Posted by: torpid22 | March 2, 2011 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, the Daily Caller interviews Sheila Jackson Lee's legion of former employees for quite a shocking and enlightening expose of life working for the 'worst boss in DC.' Coolest-political-reporters-inside-the-beltway are the ones who go out and interview actual DC people for stories and then write them, not get distracted by food fights.

Posted by: restons | March 2, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

let me second that emotion.

i see zeroes. i see a great void. the word, "vacuum" keeps going through my head, and not because i'm looking at a dusty rug.

i read a lot of political/world articles/blogs per day.

this column is so much nothing about nothing that all i can do is post this comment stating that it is nothing. i couldn't even get through the whole column.

at least when the wicked witch of the west melted away, she left behind her hat, broom, and slippers, indicating that there had at least one time been something there.

calvin coolidge would never have wasted even his most famous two words on the underlying facts or this topic.

nothing x nothing = nothing.

keevan d. morgan, esq., chicago

Posted by: oakhill1863 | March 2, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

are these "journalists" out of high school yet?

Posted by: oldguy15 | March 2, 2011 10:21 PM | Report abuse

The media train has left the station, and these "Inside-the-Beltway Buffoons" still don't realize that they've missed it. The Drudge Report, talk radio, and FOX are eating their lunch on a daily basis, but these folks devote their efforts to quibbling "gossip girl" melodramas. Suits me and, judging from the media numbers, apparently a lot of other Americans. You have to wonder if the NYT and Politico will even be around five or seven years from now. And, given the makeup of our population, who would really miss them?

Posted by: Rocks66 | March 2, 2011 11:54 PM | Report abuse

"Private e-mails". What a charming notion. Does anyone believe in such a thing in this day and age?

Posted by: TobyTucker1 | March 3, 2011 2:40 AM | Report abuse

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