Political dope

I just stumbled upon David Grann’s 2004 profile of Mark Halperin, he of the latest gossip-fest about the 2008 campaign. If you avoided the story, just read this to know everything you need to know about the concerns over the book – and Grann wrote this five years before the book came out!

“There is always some new tidbit,” Mark Halperin said. “You just have to ferret it out.” It was the first day of the Republican Convention, in New York, and although the sun had not yet risen, he had already laid out all he needed for his peculiar trade—three television monitors, a laptop, a BlackBerry, a cell phone, a pager—in a makeshift space on the fifth floor of Madison Square Garden. Outside the Washington establishment, Halperin is known, if at all, as a journalist (his official title is political director of ABC News), but within it he is considered the leading purveyor of inside dope. As the founder of The Note, a political news digest that appears on the ABC News Web site each weekday morning by eleven o’clock, he collects information the way bookies keep tabs on the latest odds, or photographers chase the fading light. He collects polling data, no matter what the time of year or the size of the sample. He collects any rise or fall—even the smallest blip—in the projected electoral count. He also collects dirt, such as the unsealed divorce records of Jack Ryan, a Senate candidate from Illinois, which detailed visits to an alleged “sex club,” and which forced Ryan out of the race. He collects other things, too: arcane statistics from documents that government agencies churn out but few read; embargoed political books (The Note footnoted Kitty Kelley’s gossipy portrait of the Bush family twenty-four hours before it was released, beneath the teaser “Here Kitty, Kitty”); wire reports; radio transcripts; pieces of legislation; the guest lists of Georgetown dinner parties; and other minutiae that are of little interest to the ordinary citizen but are essential to his calling (“2:00 p.m.: Sen. John Kerry and his family hold a barbeque at the Heinz Farm, Fox Chapel, Pa”). Mostly, though, Halperin collects leaks and scuttlebutt from the campaign consultants, strategists, pollsters, pundits, and journalists who make up the modern-day political establishment, or what Halperin calls “the Gang of 500.”

The story gave me a building sense of horror as it went on – sort of like The Hurt Locker, without actual bombs. Here’s to reasoned, thoughtful, narrative argumentation.


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