The “Playbook” is an early morning newsletter published by Politico. Started by founder Mike Allen in 2006, Playbook arrives via email to anyone who signs up to receive the column each day. Playbook developed a large base of readers, and was credited through the Obama Administration with, in some ways, setting the political agenda for each day with the topics it covered. Allen received assistance from other Politico reporters over the years, and authorship of Playbook was taken over by others in 2016 when Allen departed Politico.
Recently, Politico has had guest editors put out the newsletter, and the guest editor this morning was Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro, a conservative opinion writer with 3.3 million followers on Twitter. Howls of outrage have been heard from inside Politico’s newsroom as a result — apparently, the invitation to Shapiro to be a guest editor of today’s Playbook wasn’t widely known inside the publication.
Daily Beast covers the story as follows:
Politico is facing backlash on Thursday—both internally and externally—for handing over the keys to its signature news product for the day to Ben Shapiro, an oft-incendiary right-wing commentator.
“We published a piece by a very prominent writer, provocateur, and podcaster. We stand by every word in there, it was very closely edited,” the outlet’s top editor Matt Kaminski said as part of his response to staffers during a Thursday meeting.
At another point, the top editor added: “Mischief making has always been a part of Politico’s secret sauce. We were an upstart. Some of that sensibility is always going to be a part of this publication.”
To no one’s surprise, Shaprio’s contribution this morning focused on the House vote yesterday to impeach President Trump. He spent much of this column defending the GOP House members who voted against impeachment, arguing that to go along with the effort would have played into the narrative the Democrats are trying to create through the media that the responsibility for the rioting in the Capitol on Tuesday is an anchor to be worn around the neck by all Republicans.
Shapiro then backed up his claim by pointing to the public comments by several prominent Democrats on that very issue:
Sen. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.) suggested this week at NBCNews.com that the only way to prevent a repeat of the Capitol riot was endorsement of a full slate of Democratic agenda items. Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) suggested that “Southern states are not red states, they are suppressed states, which means the only way that our country is going to heal is through the actual liberation of Southern states …” And PAUL KRUGMAN of The New York Times placed blame for the Capitol riots on the entire Republican Party infrastructure: “This Putsch Was Decades In The Making.”
Then Shapiro called out the game in much the same fashion that I did in this story yesterday. Shapiro writes:
If you supported Trump in any way, you were at least partially culpable, the argument goes. It’s not just Trump who deserves vitriol — it’s all 74 million people who voted for him.
And that claim, many conservatives believe, will serve as the basis for repression everywhere from social media to employment.
The newsletter goes on to cover a couple dozen more items in the news in a fashion very familiar and in-line with Shapiro’s politics, but greatly out-of-step with the politics of the newsroom at Politico.
This drew some sharp comments and objections from inside the publication.
One staffer pointed out in a company-wide Slack channel that the right-wing pundit has a “long history of bigoted and incendiary commentary,” making it especially inappropriate to elevate him in the wake of last week’s violent attack on the Capitol by rioters who, critics say, have been radicalized for years by the fiery rhetoric of right-wing media stars like Shapiro.
“It has clearly generated a wave of negative attention, and I fear it’s already overshadowing a lot of great work being done by journalists across this newsroom,” the staffer added. The comment received several dozen upvotes from Politico colleagues.
“This is especially confusing given the newsroom’s welcome efforts over the last year to cover issues related to race in a more intentional, elevated, thoughtful way,” another staffer responded.
Shapiro is enjoying the consternation caused by his involvement a great deal.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 14, 2021
Internally, the editors at Politico now have a good idea how little heat it takes to melt the snowflakes at their desks.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) January 14, 2021
A fascinating outcome of this affair will be if the Politico newsroom decides that someone “must leave the island” over this affair. Having 225 people on a zoom call to bitch about one guest editor of one daily newsletter seems like a pretty thin basis to execute someone’s career.
Other major media publications have suffered through what should have been similar humiliating experiences — an infantile reporting staff’s demand that editors be removed over editorial decisions that offend their sensitive sensibilities.
The next 36 hours at Politico might be fun to watch.