New York Times magazine writer Mark Leibovich detailed the way too comfy-cozy world of Washington, D.C., in his summer book blockbuster, "This Town," dedicating a solid chapter to Politico and the news org's "hyperactive and nocturnal Eagle Scout," Playbook author Mike Allen.
So it may come as a surprise that Leibovich agreed to appear at a Politico Playbook event, a breakfast panel Wednesday morning. And be interviewed by Allen.
"Why did you agree to do this?" Leibovich said he thought would be Allen's first question. It wasn't. But Allen got to the "This Town" takedown soon enough.
"In my favorite chapter you write`Playbook is an insider's dog's breakfast of overnight news, press release previews, random sightings around town and birthday greetings to people you have never heard of,' Allen quoted. "Is it that bad?"
Not bad, but that's accurate, was Leibovich's retort. "Dog's eat breakfast, I eat breakfast, I read Playbook," Leibovich said. "Umm, again I absolutely dispute the 'bad' premise, but yeah that's exactly what it is."
Politico, Leibovich argued, "amplifies the insiderdom" of Washington's media establishment leading to "groupthink," -- there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the country wasn't ready for a black president and Hillary Clinton was the chosen one in 2008 (and 2016, too).
"There was a ton of coverage in Politico, everywhere, about the politics of health care over the last year. It would have been nice to...have a maybe more technical debate of whether it was actually going to work, which, of course, is the big story now," Leibovich said.
The "This Town" author didn't fully blame the hyperactive website and newspaper. "I don't think Politico alone drives that, but I think in a sense the business model of Politico is to be the ESPN for politics," Leibovich said, adding that the problem was then "the notion that this is real life, this affects real people."
Coming back home to the original point that "This Town" makes, Leibovich warned that all Washington journalists are susceptible to becoming too close to the people they cover. "People think that politician X is being so nice to me and so solicitous of me because they really like me, I'm special, we actually could be friends," is what reporters tell themselves, Leibovich said.
And Leibovich even talked about a time that he felt too cozy with a political figure to cover that person. "[My wife] was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was writing a profile of Elizabeth Edwards and John Edwards the weekend after she announced she had relapsed," Leibovich said. Because of his wife's news, Leibovich had to cancel the interview. "And then Elizabeth Edwards called and she was just an incredible friend through that, so at that point I recused myself from all Elizabeth Edwards or Edwards-related stories."
During the latter half of the panel discussion, which also featured the New York Times' Peter Baker, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and CNN's Jake Tapper, Allen gave Leibovich one more chance to lighten up on his critique of Washington. Had Leibovich, maybe, been too hard on anyone? "I don't think I was too hard on anyone. I could have been harder on certain people," Leibovich acknowledged. "Wait for the sequel," he said, pausing. "There's no sequel."