A fascinating sociological experiment unfolds before our eyes starting this morning, as the Washington Post unveils its new “PowerPost” vertical, subtitled “Intelligence for Leaders.”
Post publisher Fred Ryan, in a memo to the Post newsroom leaked to Politico, said the new project would focus “on the subjects that matter most to the people at the center of power.”
What we can learn, therefore, is what the editors of the Washington Post, themselves of course among the powerful, think their fellow powerful people are interested in.
If I had a captive audience of powerful people, mind you, I would expose them relentlessly to the stories of the powerless — the people being squashed by their precious status quo, the people scraping by at wrong end of the playing field the powerful have tilted so steeply, the people going to schools to which the powerful would never dream of sending their children.
But of course the Washington Post’s goal here is not to bum out the powerful, or teach them humility; it is to attract them, coddle them and fulfill their needs.
It is hardly a coincidence that the person announcing the launch of PowerPost was publisher Ryan, the former Reagan administration official and co-founder of Politico whom Amazon owner Jeff Bezos put in loco parentis of his new bauble.
Nor is it a coincidence that the lead writer of PowerPost’s morning newsletter — called the “Daily 202” — is Politico veteran James Hohmann.
No, it’s pretty clear that having seen Politico successfully flatter and wheedle its way into the warmest place in the hearts of Washington’s movers and shakers — previously the Post’s territory — the Post is imitating Politico.
And indeed, after Day One of observing this experiment, we conclude that it is just the same as everything else the elite political media is writing everywhere else.
In particular, it looks a lot like another rip-off of Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook — or rather what Playbook was like before it turned into a parody of pay-to-play pomposity, obsequiousness and self-absorption.
As of this morning, you can “Start your day with PowerPost’s must-read morning briefing, delivering scoops and key insights to your inbox at 7 a.m., Monday through Friday.” And you’ll get a familiar, tedious mix of insider political gossip, talking points and stenography — now, with a little social media sprinkled in!
In possibly the first in a series of missed opportunities, PowerPost “interviews” Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. (Apparently, this is their first “Players” profile.) The topic — “how he’d spend his first 100 days as president” — was the perfect springboard for Cruz to launch into a series of dutifully recorded talking points.
In the “wide-ranging interview,” Cruz, for instance, reveals that he would use “every tool at our disposable to assure that under no circumstances does Iran acquire nuclear weapons.”
Will there be follow-up questions allowed in future PowerPost interviews? Because one would really like to know if he means that. Could we nuke them? Use chemical weapons? Use biological weapons? Would we send in drones to assassinate Iranian government leaders? How about sending in Seal Team 6 to capture them? Then torture them?
The man does not believe in climate change. Does he believe in radioactivity?
Although I should acknowledge that in one way, taking seriously what Cruz says about what he would do as president is itself a pretty bold political statement — given Cruz’s well-documented problem of just making shit up.
Here’s what I would ask Ted Cruz if I had the chance:
- Where do your noxious anti-gay views emanate from?
- Why are you so firmly convinced that climate change is not real? When did you reach that conclusion? And what if you’re wrong? What then?
- Aren’t you worried that the extreme positions you are taking to get the far-right-wing electorate worked up have some long-term liabilities, should they actually succeed in winning you the GOP nomination?
Stuff like that.
Now mind you, PowerPost isn’t just trying to be like Politico. It’s also trying to be like Buzzfeed.
An announcement in today’s “Daily 202”:
Through a Washington Post partnership with Zignal Labs, we’ll bring you real-time insights into the 2016 social media conversation each morning. We’ll use special algorithms from the San Francisco-based, cross-media analytics platform to either bolster or debunk conventional wisdom. We’ll also provide cool, exclusive visualizations of that data in this space.
Sadly, here is today’s cool exclusive visualization of which presidential candidates got the most buzz after they announced their candidacy:
There is a lot of hot buzzing in the 202’s headings: BUZZING AT THE CAPITOL, HOT ON THE RIGHT, HOT ON THE LEFT.
But it’s hardly a quick read. Today’s inaugural issues clocked in at nearly 3,500 words, plus big pictures and video. That’s like a 10 to 15 minute commitment, at least — if you actually read it.
Apparently, the powerful need to know a lot of stuff every morning.
The raison d’etre for this new non-contribution to our political discourse, of course, is money. The Post has been chasing the ad dollars aimed at “influentials” for so long I remember the marching orders from back when I was editor of the Post’s website, and that was more than a decade ago. (Disclosure: I worked for the Post for 12 years, getting fired about every six.)
Who wants those influential eyeballs? Well, that’s another observable experiment.
When I scrolled down the PowerPost’s home page, the PowerPost banner literally pulled up like a curtain, revealing a sumptuous Lockheed Martin ad for the F-35 Lighting II: “THE QUESTION ISN’T WHERE CAN IT GO, IT’S WHERE DO YOU NEED IT?”
The real question about the F-35, of course, is: WHY CAN’T WE GET OUR MONEY BACK? It’s just lucky for Lockheed Martin that the F-35 is seen as “too big to cancel” despite the fact that it is, as Mother Jones put it, “Still FUBAR“.
As with many of the Post’s forays on the Web, there is of course a very cynical reading of its very name. The Post’s best days are past, its staff lightened in number and weight. Its influence has waned. The optimism born of the Bezos purchase now seems unjustified, with his installation of Ryan, and his leaving in place an editorial board that channels Dick Cheney.
It is a PostPower era for the Post.
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)