Insider Game: Allure goes with “in the know”

Insider Game: Allure goes with “in the know”
February 24, 2015 Robert Dillon

Everyone in Washington wants to be an insider.

This town runs on knowledge, but not the kind of knowledge that is actually useful – the kind of knowledge that will save you in a bear attack or if your snowmachine conks out in the middle of nowhere at 40-below. No, the kind of knowledge craved in Washington is more political trivia than useful intelligence. Sightings of high-ranking administration officials at posh eateries in Georgetown or an early copy of a White House script (aka “talking points”). You could be forgiven for mistaking The Capitol for another city on the opposite coast.

The National Journal touched on this uniquely Washington phenomenon over the weekend in their piece “When a Clinton ‘Ally’ Isn’t an Ally at All.” The story is all about the long list of people who like to appear like they know what they’re talking about. They don’t.

“This is a constant problem,” said Howard Wolfson, who served as Clinton’s communications director in 2008. “There is an enormous number of people who have had, or claim to have had, an association with the Clintons over the years—and many of them claim to have some degree of knowledge of her plans or activities that they don’t in fact have.” – National Journal.

People do this for a variety of reasons – the main one being to make themselves look more attractive to potential employers. But much of it is simply vanity. What’s the point of living in Washington, D.C. – one of the most expensive places in the country – if you’re not “in the know?”

The thing is, a Clinton “ally” could be anyone: a top donor or a former staffer in the know, sure, but also a Democratic strategist on the outside who is just sharing an opinion, wants to feel important, or is hoping to settle a score. What’s more, it’s far harder for the campaign to chastise someone for saying things they shouldn’t—or stop telling that person privileged information—if they’re quoted anonymously and you don’t know for sure who said what. – National Journal.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 9.57.42 PM A “former” pontificates on CNBC Hillary Clinton’s political plans.

The media shoulders its share of blame in this game. Reporters and their editors are far too willingly to let a source hide behind a cloak of anonymity in exchange for a juicy quote – always about somebody else, of course. Reporters are hip to the fact that they are sometimes/often/always being used by sources who demand anonymity, but being first with a factoid – if only for the 30 seconds it takes the competition to post their own story – is the name of the game and the way to get promoted in Washington – and really everywhere.

Asked how the campaign could get a handle on all the anonymous outside chatter, Reines placed much of the blame on the media for being willing to grant anonymity to sources who don’t know what they’re talking about. Unless the unnamed “advisers” stop talking to reporters, or reporters stop quoting them, Reines added, there’s no way to get the issue under control. – National Journal.

“What gets lost is, there are no consequences for [the source or the media] when they’re wrong—there just aren’t,” he said. “If you were to go back and look at the last three, four, five, six months of coverage about Secretary Clinton, you’re going to see certain reporters who cover her closely whose accuracy rate is less than 50-50.” – National Journal.

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New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich in 2010 profiled the king of Washington trivia, Mike Allen of Politico. Allen writes Playbook, which is surely Washington’s most-read tip sheet – an email blast to several thousand subscribers every morning. Leibovich described Playbook as thus:

An insider’s hodgepodge of predawn news, talking-point previews, scooplets, birthday greetings to people you’ve never heard of, random sightings (“spotted”) around town and inside jokes. It is, in essence, Allen’s morning distillation of the Nation’s Business in the form of a summer-camp newsletter. – The New York Times.

Image of Mike Allen on Politico

Capitol correspondent Mike Allen, Politico’s in-house insider.

The aim of Playbook – and Politico in general – Leibovich wrote is:

To “win” every news cycle by being first with a morsel of information, whether or not the morsel proves relevant, or even correct, in the long run — and whether the long run proves to be measured in days, hours or minutes. – The New York Times.

Politico has a number of these morning tip sheets, including Morning Energy, which covers – what else – energy. I myself am regularly quoted in ME (as it’s referred to within the Beltway). This morning I may have jumped the shark when I referred to ME in my quote for ME.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 9.46.47 PM

JEWELL HEADED FOR AN ALASKAN BASHIN’: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hasn’t testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in nearly two years and her visit today, as the spokesman for panel chairwoman Lisa Murkowski put it, “won’t be a warm welcome.” Between the agency’s rebuke on the Izembek Road for the community of King Cove to more recent Obama administration proposals aimed at protecting more than 12 million additional acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and draft Arctic offshore oil drilling rules announced last week, just to name a few, there’s plenty to talk about. “The list of issues that Chairman Murkowski alone may bring up could be its own special edition of Morning Energy,” Robert Dillon said. “The list goes on and on – and as a result, so might Jewell’s time with the committee.’ The hearing starts at 10 a.m. in Dirksen 366. Maybe you should bring a snack.



Robert Dillon
Robert Dillon is former communications director of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He’s worked as a photographer and reporter for newspapers, magazines, and radio in Alaska, Washington, D.C., Russia, China, and across Europe.

1 Comment

  1. juliathepoet 3 years ago

    I really appreciate this, although I am guilty of having 2 must-read political newsflash emails a day. One deals with my home state politics and the other is a national. I have tried to find a something similar for Alaska, without much luck.

    Any suggestions?

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