Washington is known for his staid, bland, appropriateness. So it was a shocker last night at the Newseum screening of “Page One” when NJ‘s Marc Ambinder publicly insulted Politico Playbook by Mike Allen. At a panel post screening moderated by Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson, Ambinder questioned Playbook’s usefulness and remarked that Allen’s select Birthday listings — a cutesy section in which he mentions, for instance, a White House staffer’s birthday party and then offers a h/t to the person who tipped him off — only “further politicizes” Washington by “pushing the Administration’s message.”
Asked for comment this morning, Allen told FishbowlDC: “Marc’s conspiracy theories about birthdays strike me as goofy. I assume he was joking, and will remember to give him a polarizing birthday shout-out on Aug. 8.” He later added, “I have emailed with Marc and he was making a broader point about the press that has been lost in the birthday nonsense.”
Allen was obviously in the audience listening to his critic. At one point it was suggested that NJ‘s Hotline On Call was an early version of Playbook. This is when Ambinder went on the attack. Those in attendance say Allen turned to a man seated next to him, smiled, shrugged his shoulders in response and even walked to the stage after, perhaps to show Ambinder that he was there. “Pretty ballsy and smart,” one attendee remarked. The conversation quickly shifted to another subject just before the panel ended. No one really reacted or agreed with Ambinder.
Ambinder responded to our morning request for comment. “I love Playbook and find it helpful,” he wrote by email. “I was saying, as a random aside, because it popped into my brain at that moment, that it’s polarizing. A lot of folks think it’s sycophantic and indicative of the too-cozy relationship between the press and those we cover. That was germane to the subject we were discussing.
“When I read it, I tend to ignore the silly shout outs and skip to the helpful stuff. Mike is an institution and to the extent that people gossip about his product, it is a reflection of our collective insecurity about what we do and our secret envy at his source base.”
Although there were no further reports of confrontation between Ambinder and Allen, one FishbowlDC spy did see Ambinder leaving the Newseum in a hurry. But perhaps the rushing was overstated. “I knew he was there,” wrote Ambinder. “How? I read it in Playbook.”