Politico Defends Its Own Pay-to-Play Publicity Game as ‘Transparent’

Carousel_MP_POLITICO_sign_v6_960_481_40In the year’s most “Inside Baseball” story, Erik Wemple of The Washington Post claimed that the popular D.C. “Playbook” email newsletter published by Mike Allen of Politico basically amounts to a bunch of reprinted press releases.

Want your business to earn positive press in a thread read by thousands of political insiders? No problem—just fork up $35,000 to spend a week sponsoring the newsletter and Allen will make sure to mention you in a completely uncritical way. He might even bring your name up later in order to highlight your own publicity campaigns and link to your PSA-style videos because he’s such a nice guy.

This isn’t a completely new story, BTW: back in 2010 this blog reported on the ease with which one may be featured in the site’s fluffier “Click” section.

When Wemple’s report surfaced, Politico CEO John VandeHei called it “nonsense”—and Howard Kurtz gave editor-in-chief John Harris an opportunity to elaborate on that statement on his Fox News show this week.

Harris’ defense was a bit…garbled.

Anyone can read it any given day and sort of take their best guess as to why this is in there, why it’s not, who Mike had lunch with, who was giving him this, who he had dinner with, who was feeding him that. Totally transparent.

Right, but does “everyone knows what we do” really qualify as transparency?

The argument here is that Allen favors his contributors. While Harris decries the original report as “horribly, horribly unfair”, it’s telling that no one from Politico was willing to go on the record defending “Playbook” and that Allen himself continues to avoid all requests for comment.

The only real conclusion to draw is that “Playbook” is indeed a reliable guide to who’s paying Mike Allen this week—and that those who read it expecting him to offer critical coverage of sponsors might want to look elsewhere.

Politico also landed atop Alex Pareene‘s “Hack List” for the second time in as many years, but that story dives a little deeper into baseball than we’re willing to go.