Erik Wemple has another blockbuster piece on the corporate public relations newsletter known as Mike Allen’s Playbook at Politico. This time, it’s about the constant, fawning press releases Allen writes for his favorite news channel and personal idol, Roger Ailes. The latest piece of puffery from Allen is a summary of the new Gabe Sherman book on the Republican operative running the Republican Party’s propaganda outlet. For some reason, almost none of the critical details about Ailes made it into Allen’s account, merely anything that Ailes himself would be happy with:
He chose far more flattering stuff, like the part about Ailes being “The Most Powerful Man in the World,” about Ailes’s rough childhood, about Ailes winning over Rupert Murdoch, about Ailes winning over employees, about Ailes’s marketing genius, about Politico scoring a presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan library, to Ailes’s dismay. Save for a nod to Fox News’s alleged deception over an infamous anti-Obama video from May 2012, Allen all but “Zevved up” the Sherman book. That is, he made it sound a lot like the very favorable Ailes biography that author Zev Chafets last year published with the network boss’s full cooperation.
To take a fair but highly critical book and make it seem like a hagiography is Allen’s mojo when it comes to Politico’s advertizing clients (including those whose sponsored content appears within Allen’s daily suck-up to power and money in Washington). But the Ailes-worship is close to pathological. Just read it all yourself and make up your own mind. But, to my mind, Wemple proceeds to cite case after case after case of fellatial coverage of Fox and Ailes from the perkiest team-player in the Washington Media-Corporate Village. Now, you might think that this is too easy. Selective pickings from Allen’s daily, lucrative plugs for the rich and powerful could find anything. But what makes Wemple’s pieces persuasive is that he also includes any examples he can also find of faintly-critical coverage. They’re there, but in such minuscule proportion to the relentless positive p.r. for Fox that they almost seem designed to bolster its credibility. And that’s why Allen’s disgracefully tardy response to this is so lame:
Over the past seven years, there have been more than 8 million words of Playbooks, including hundreds of announcements from every group under the sun. You could cherry-pick items to make any case you wanted: that I’m a conservative hack, or a liberal tool, or a bad writer or a good guy.
No you can’t. The mountain of evidence and counter-evidence that Wemple has assembled is proof that Allen will flatter anyone with power for access and suck up to anyone with money for cash. Now that does not mean that Allen does this in a conscious way. My own sense is that he is so eager to please the powerful, so desperate to be included in their circles, so obsessed with remaining a player in DC, that he may simply not see that his constant cooing into the power vortex of Washington is at best an exercise in public relations, rather than journalism, and at worst, an obvious inversion of the journalist’s core role, which is to challenge power rather than to celebrate it. In other words, subjective naivete and a desire to be accepted is not incompatible with objective corruption.
But Wemple has a coup de grace. He notes how odd it is that, given Allen’s constant suck-ups, Politico’s stars very rarely show up on Fox News. And yet it isn’t that odd at all, as Fox’s response to the charge reveals:
Former Fox News PR ace Brian Lewis told Jim Romenesko in 2012, “We do not have a do-not-deal-with-Politico policy. We deal with Mike Allen.” As they should.
And, when they need a mouthpiece to rebut telling criticism, they still do.