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Politico’s Playbook Is A Perfect Encapsulation Of The Self-Obsessed, Out-Of-Touch Reality Of Corporate Media

Politico and Washington Times newspaper boxes in the snow in 2010. Samir Luther/Flickr.

It’s completely normal for parents to put masks on children over the age of two while they are playing “in uncrowded outdoor spaces.” Oh, and Tucker Carlson is “a self-styled anti-nanny state libertarian.”

All that and a bag of chips if you read Politico’s Playbook newsletter Tuesday morning. Of course, those observations were scattered in with a number of pat progressive pronouncements about X being scientific and Y being racist, all sans any supporting evidence.

But what made the mask claim and the libertarian characterization stand out isn’t that we have different politics or simply disagree, as is normal to do. Rather, it’s just how uninformed by reality those observations are. They betray not simply a lack of understanding or really even attention to current events (although they do both of those things). They also substitute understanding with lazy and dated “conventional wisdom,” which is to say, “caricatures.”

Let’s start with Tucker, because that one’s fun. The paragraphs leading the newsletter are titled “IS TUCKER CARLSON LOSING HIS MIND?” and try to parse what the four authors of the newsletter call the recent changing tone of the host of one of cable’s most-watched programs, which they characterize as “especially strange for a self-styled anti-nanny state libertarian.”

Now, in order to think that Tucker Carlson is “a self-styled anti-nanny state libertarian,” you would have to rely on caricatures of the man from literally the early 2000s when he co-hosted CNN’s “Crossfire.” You would have had to have been completely unaware of his nightly broadcasts for the past nearly five years of his show. Or of the article he wrote for Politico Magazine itself months before that show debuted. I worked for him back then at The Daily Caller, and while the man once held some libertarian views, the conservatism of men like Patrick Buchanan was far more evident in his opinions, writing, and public appearances than any childish claptrap.

But whatever. It’s just a TV show, right? Well, not quite, because “Tucker Carlson Tonight” is almost certainly the most influential public thinker and media figure on the right. His politics helped influence the policies of the last president’s administration, often curtailing Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s more liberal impulses. And no person besides former President Donald Trump has remotely as much sway over the GOP’s base as Tucker does.

This isn’t to list accolades, but to illustrate what seems like the importance, then, of remotely understanding his politics. Plenty of people in America don’t have to watch Tucker, and while a lot do, most don’t. That’s fine. But for the authors of Playbook, it betrays a complete lack of understanding of the ground shifts in the American politics they cover — and where half the country now is regardless of what shows they watch.

On the subject of where America is, we come to the matter of masking children “in uncrowded outdoor spaces” — something the authors think is very important.

You don’t have to have traveled the country to realize that outside of Washington, New York City, and a few other paranoid left-wing cities, the vast majority of the country has moved far beyond such foolish behavior. You just have to drive an hour out of Washington and northern Virginia to see the truth of this. While the four authors of Playbook wait breathlessly on the CDC’s constantly shifting “guidance,” the broad majority of the country didn’t wait on a couple of lab coats in Washington to change a stupid rule to decide if their five-year old should wear a mask in the woods or on a playground.

Look, being wrong is one thing. Reporters and writers make mistakes. I confused two governors I’m well familiar with earlier this week, promptly correcting my article when I realized the foolish error. The problem isn’t that there’s a mistake in Playbook, or even simply a difference of politics. Rather, it is the complete lack of understanding these massively out-of-touch observations convey. And it isn’t isolated; for them, it’s a habit.

On Monday, when John Kerry was outed in The New York Times for allegedly leaking more than 200 covert Israeli operations to the Iranians, the fact went unmentioned in the newsletter, which instead focused on how the article showed the Ayatollah and Revolutionary Guard are actually in charge of that country.

“WOW,” the authors wrote of that news, although this information has been obvious for years. The New York Times, which itself buried the news 22 paragraphs down, knows better — and should understand proper news judgment — so their reasons might be more difficult to parse, but Playbook’s treatment is far more likely because they are lazy, don’t understand, and just take The New York Times’s chosen headline for the big takeaway. Most of their peers do the same.

The week before, when the long-suppressed news that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick had died of a stroke finally came out, shattering months of Democratic and corporate media gaslighting, the revelation was reported 53 paragraphs down the newsletter. When readers finally reached it, it was beneath a paragraph called “THE BIG LIE,” which was about — wait for it — Republicans.

The month before that, on March 5, when the country was gripped in a border crisis, news of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cover-ups and sexual harassment allegations was exploding, and the national government was working to seize election control from states, Politico chose to make Trump the lead. In their email, they mentioned the former president’s name nearly 40 times. Is he still important? Yes. Was he more important at that moment than those other items? It’s very difficult to make that claim.

The month before that, on February 25, Playbook made the first reference it had in an entire year to the Equality Act — a law to fundamentally reshape society and undermine religious liberty. That mention was a single sentence informing readers the vote was happening that day. The quick passing reference was then followed by three whole paragraphs on freshman Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The month before that, the staff at Politico erupted when conservative pundit Ben Shapiro guest-wrote one of the newsletters. The editor in chief was forced to defend the decision, while staffers threatened to quit in response. None of them made so much as a peep when MSNBC’s left-wing host Chris Hayes has guest-hosted, nor when PBS race-hack Yamiche Alcindor took a turn at it. Why not?

Those internal antics were detailed in Vanity Fair, which featured maybe the most unintentionally hysterical photoshoot since Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi donned African kente cloths to take a knee on the floor of the Capitol Visitors Center.

Very cool. Very serious. Very in-touch.

Playbook isn’t alone in its precipitous decline. The “Beltway Bubble,” so perfectly encapsulated in the writings of Mark Leibovich and Chris Buckley, is nearly as self-obsessed as Manhattan. Five years ago, nearly the entire corporate media missed every single warning sign of Trump’s victory. When it happened, they pledged to fix the oversight, vowing to get in touch with a country they so clearly didn’t understand.

The moment of clarity was short-lived, with figures from the top to the bottom of nearly every major outlet quickly reverting to accusing half the country of racism, spending years repeating ridiculous Russia and Ukraine conspiracies, and awarding themselves plenty of prestigious prizes along the way.

Today, they are more out of touch than ever before. Every shock to the system has thus far proven unable to mend the rot, with their delusions instead climbing to even greater heights as they created their own myth of Trump the monster and themselves, the heroic defenders of the city here to return morality to the United States.

How, you might ask, could they possibly report on a country they don’t even begin to understand, never mind defend its morality? It’s delusion, of course. As myths go, far from the ancient Greek hero Perseus, who saved the city from monsters, America’s corporate media resembles the ancient Narcissus, who was so self-obsessed he died alone by a pool of water, staring into his reflection.