Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) November 21, 2013
Playbook goes beyond the routine and wildly promiscuous use of native advertising. Indeed, the behavior Wemple documents would ordinarily amount to a scandal and a likely firing offense, except that it seems to be Allen’s essential job description. As Wemple points out, some of the advertisers are also Allen’s friends. And, of course, his sources also consist significantly of his friends.
The intermingling of media, business, and elected officials that is on gross display once a year during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and which Politico both covers and participates in with peerless enthusiasm, is Allen’s vision of how journalism is supposed to function normally. Sources, friends, and sponsors all blur into one mutually protective circle. Last year, Allen gave breathless, PR-esque coverage to Fix the Debt, the pillar of respectable establishmentarian lobbying, and then, within days, announced that the group was sponsoring Playbook. …
The Mike Allen scandal is not that advertisers purchased favorable coverage in Playbook. The scandal is that, at this point, such corruption is unnecessary.
Drum sees the story as the “latest example of the press going into full stonewall mode whenever they’re the ones a story is about”:
Of course [Editor-in-Chief John] 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.
If the corruption is no longer a scandal, then surely a paper’s refusal to answer serious questions about its ethics is. By what right does Politico demand accountability from those in power, while refusing to engage in even a modicum of accountability itself? The lack of response must lead any objective person to believe the worst: that Playbook is neither ethical nor journalism. More from the Columbia Journalism Review:
Allen is DC’s access journalist par excellence, which is saying something in that town. Most beat journalists toss off the occasional beat sweetener/source greaser to gain access to a newsmaker and soft-pedal negative news to maintain that access. Access is a kind of currency: Get it and you can break news and rub elbows with important people. Allen makes this ugly sausage-making process more corrupt by mixing access currency with actual currency. Buy native ads in Playbook, get embarrassingly favorable news coverage in Playbook.
It stinks to high heaven.