Mike Allen, Busted


Dish readers know what I think of “native advertizing” and “sponsored content.” If it’s an advertorial, just call it and clearly label it an advertorial! Full disclosure and transparency are essential. The rest is whoredom, not journalism. When a journalist becomes a copy-writer for big advertisers giving him or his publication money, and does not clearly disclose the conflict of interest, he or she has ceased to be an independent journalist and joined the lucrative profession of public relations.

Read Erik Wemple’s evisceration of Mike Allen’s Playbook and make up your own mind. But to my eyes, it reads like a meticulously researched tale of at least the appearance of blatant corruption. Wemple starts with the kind of test I used for Buzzfeed’s corporate whoredom. Guess which one of these two items Mike Allen wrote and which one was written by the US Chamber of Commerce?

3) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has an ambitious new agenda to generate stronger, more robust economic growth, create jobs, and expand opportunity for all Americans. Learn more about the Chamber’s American Jobs and Growth Agenda at http://www.uschamber.com/issues. **

4) “U.S. Chamber of Commerce will launch ‘On the Road With Free Enterprise,’ a two-month cross-country road trip to promote ‘the principles of free enterprise and the best of America. Your Free Enterprise Tour Guides will see the sights, check out local events, talk to businesses, and share it [online]. More than 900 teams applied to be the Free Enterprise Tour Guides, and after months of poring over applications, two teams remain: Jen and John, and Nate and Joe. You can vote [here] once per day.’ http://www.FreeEnterprise.com/tour”

Allen wrote the first second press release; the US Chamber of Commerce the second first. [Correction here] But the Wemple examination impresses because of its thoroughness. After a while, the examples are so egregious and numerous they beggar belief. Wemple and the Post unleashed an army of bots onto the Playbook archive and came to the following inescapable conclusion:

It’s about time that Politico’s Allen got his due as a native-advertising pioneer. A review of “Playbook” archives shows that the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of “Playbook.” The pattern is a bit difficult to suss out if you glance at “Playbook” each day for a shot of news and gossip. When searching for references to advertisers in “Playbook,” however, it is unmistakable.

The most egregious examples are the US Chamber of Commerce, BP, and – yes – Goldman Sachs:

Like BP and the Chamber, Goldman Sachs is a pivotal advertiser for Politico, routinely placing back-page ads in the print product and occasionally “presenting” “Playbook.” Differentiating between those ads and Allen’s blurbs can strain the eyes. Examples: Goldman Sachs fights child sex trafficking (Jan. 23, 2013). Goldman Sachs to assist small businesses in Philadelphia. Jan. 9, 2013. Goldman Sachs helps veterans. (Dec. 14, 2012). Goldman Sachs helps small businesses. (June 12, 2012). Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award! (Aug. 13, 2012). Puff piece on Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein. (June 14, 2012).

Allen is also a close friend apparently with BP executive Geoff Morell, something he didn’t disclose when writing a puff item about Morel’s promotion.

Wemple is clear that the rest of the Politico seems very different, covering the powerful with persistence and skepticism, quite unlike Playbook’s relentless cheering of Washington’s corporate business machers. He’s also fair in noting Allen’s incredible persistence and energy as a reporter. But I’ve noticed before how Allen eagerly just gives the powerful a platform rather than holding them to account – and doesn’t even seem to understand that being a courtier to Washington Inc. and Washington’s most powerful is not the same as being a journalist. For my previous posts on Allen’s acting as a p.r. flak for Cheney and Ailes, among others, see here.

And all of this may not subjectively feel to Allen anything other than his reflexive energy and eagerness to please. He has long been a conduit for the wealthy and powerful, rather than a critic of any kind, and he doesn’t seem to understand why this makes some of us uncomfortable. But I didn’t think there was such an obvious connection between the corporations he promotes and their advertising dollars in Politico, which opens up a whole new issue – one noted not so long ago by Michael Calderone. And the mountain of evidence is very hard to refute.

So you wait in the article for Allen to defend or explain himself or for Politico’s editors to push back. But they refused to cooperate with the piece at all! “In rejecting a sit-down discussion, Editor-in-Chief John Harris said the premise ‘is without merit in any shape or form.'” So if corruption is not behind all this, what is? Or is all of this just an accident that requires no explanation at all?

And – not to get all pious about this – but aren’t journalists required to be transparent, when such obvious conflicts of interest are exposed? How can they demand transparency from public officials when they refuse to provide it themselves? Glenn Greenwald, call your office. It looks like we need you even more than we thought we did.

(Photo: Jim Watson/Getty.)