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.