Politico’s Dylan Byers On Karl Rove, Harry Reid And Beltway Media Bias
The Politico.com media critic was on Hugh’s show this afternoon, and had lots to say about Karl Rove’s comments, especially when compared to similar treatment by MSM of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s comments about Mitt Romney, and more. The audio and transcript are below.
HH: Joining me from Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, though, Dylan Byers of Politico, www.politico.com, where he is the media columnist. Hello, Dylan, how are you?
DB: I’m doing well. How are you?
HH: Good, I’ve got three or four stories I want to cover with you, but I want to start with the very top of your column on diversity in journalism.
HH: And so you’ve quoted from this essay in the American Prospect. Why don’t you summarize what the author intended the takeaway to be?
DB: I think the intended takeaway, and again I’m just pulling a little bit from this article, but essentially that the, you know, for all the championing of diversity in the workplace and America in general, that there’s actually very little diversity in most of America’s newsrooms, generally speaking, and then as this article found, also in a lot of sort of liberal and progressive outlets ranging from outlets like the Atlantic to far left outlets like Dissent, that well, you know, that often times, you’ve got only about 10% of the office is non-white, and in some cases, worse.
HH: Now you know what I found interesting about that is their definition of diversity. Now I assume you don’t know the makeup of the newsroom at Dissent or at Mother Jones or at the Atlantic or anyplace like this. So I’m going to stick with your guesses, just your guesses, Dylan, about Politico’s newsroom, okay?
DB: Uh huh.
HH: Now many Mormons do you think are employed full time at Politico in an editorial capacity?
DB: That’s an interesting question. I would guess, I would put the number at being very low.
HH: Any at all?
DB: I would say, well, my grandparents are Mormon. Does that count?
HH: No, that does not count.
HH: My great-grandparents lived in Ulster. That doesn’t make me an Ulsterman. How many Mass-attending Catholics? I mean like every week on their knees at St. Whatever-the-name-is in D.C. at Politico?
DB: Oh, I’d say a few, actually, more than I anticipated.
HH: Half a dozen?
DB: But your point is well taken. There aren’t many.
HH: How many have carry conceal permits at Politico?
DB: Well, that I have no idea.
HH: Well, people tell you when they have them. They just don’t tell you when they’re using them. And you know what I’m getting at is that this diversity article is just dull to me, because the real diversity problem in media, Dylan Byers, is not race or gender or ethnicity. It’s the fact that 95% of media is Democrat and liberal. And you don’t argue with that, do you?
DB: No, well, it goes without saying. I mean, look, where are the media centers in the country? They are primarily New York City and Washington, D.C. And then, you know, if you want to bring in Los Angeles and San Francisco, you can do that as well. And those tend to be urban, progressive places. And as a result, that sort of worldview tends to be reflected in the coverage. There’s no question about that. Now I would suggest especially when it comes to political journalism that if you get rid of your liberal outlets and your conservative outlets and you focus on an organization like Politico, there is a very real desire to just cover this as reporters and to distance whatever sort of preconceived biases you have maybe from the way you were brought up, or the sort of world you came from, and just like report the facts on the ground. And I’m sure, believe me, I know we have a ton of critics on both the left and the right, but we are trying to do that to the best of our ability, and I would say in large part, have been very successful.
HH: You see, I don’t quarrel with that at all. I actually think you guys do a good job on reporting. And I think that you probably have more Evangelicals than most people know. And I know some of your leadership is sort of centrist, and you might even have a center-right guy there in Fred Ryan. And I think you’ve got James Hohmann, who’s probably pretty centrist. But I mean, when I look at this story, it just cries out to me, you admitted it. No, it’s not even a question that in elite media, 95% is left of center. And I think I had Thomas Edsall admit this on this program five years ago, and the left barked at him a little bit. But he’s an old curmudgeon. He doesn’t care if they bark at him. He admits, everybody knows this is, so why care about lack of diversity when they can’t get the most important thing, intellectual diversity, right?
DB: Well, I’d say those are two very real and different concerns, and I think they’re both legitimate. One is the concern dealing mostly with questions of racial or ethnic diversity and gender diversity in a workplace in general. And the reason that that’s an interesting story for journalism is because journalists might spend a lot of time sort of especially at these sort of progressive publications advocating for this sort of thing across the workspace in America. And then they look at their own organizations, and it looks a bit hypocritical. I think on your point in terms of ideologically speaking, it’s an entirely fair point. I think the mark of success, though, is not having a 50/50 split down the middle of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals are bringing in a fair representation of libertarians or other voices. I think the best thing you can do is create a product where you can’t tell what the potential political biases of the reporters are.
HH: Now I’m not sure I agree with that. I think the best is knowing the full bio of every reporter, and then being able to correct for the lie of the green like in playing golf. You know, I think you’re center-left, but you’re pretty fair, and you get some things right and you get some things wrong. But you know, I can adjust for the Dylan Byers, you know, the green tilts left. And so I’ve got to put right.
DB: I recommend a nine iron.
HH: Yeah, a nine iron. You’ve got to get a nine iron to get it to the Byers’ approach, and there’s water in the front. But nevertheless, I know where most of your people are. That’s the best thing, is, though, when the Post goes out and they hire Robert Costa…
HH: That’s a good thing. Or right now, Eliana Johnson is the hottest commodity in right wing conservative media, and she won’t last at National Review. National Review is like the farm team for every big media outlet. They produce these winners.
DB: But if you talk to Robert Costa about what his, how he defines himself, my guess is that if you ask him like are you a Republican reporter, he would say no.
HH: No, he’s not. He’s a reporter.
DB: I report on Republicans, and he does a damn good job of it.
HH: Yes, he does. And the difference between him and…
DB: And so does the Politico team, and that’s regardless of whether or not they’re seen as being Republican or Democrat.
HH: No, it’s just your sources. Weigel is a very good reporter, and a guest on this show today, in fact, and along with you. And Weigerl, you know, he was assigned the conservative beat at the Post, and he got beat up on it, because people thought he wouldn’t be fair. I thought he would be fair. But Costa gets assigned it, and people will think it’s fair, because he’s perceived as having Republican sources, because I don’t even know what his politics are. He went to Notre Dame. He got the right football team. But this is such an old and boring thing. Just bring me good reporters…
HH: And bring me interesting people. And that brings me to part two which I’ll cover in the second part here, which is the Glenn Greenwald/Karl Rove comparison. Let me ask you this. As between the two, who are more accomplished men?
DB: More accomplished between Glenn Greenwald and Karl Rove? I’ve never, that’s like comparing apples and oranges.
HH: No, it’s not. It’s not even close.
DB: I would say in terms of you’d have to say Karl Rove certainly has a longer CV.
HH: Longer CV, and he’s been in jobs of significance with authority and life and death decisions.
DB: Absolutely. Yeah, no question.
HH: And he’s gotten people elected president, and he knows the…and has Glenn actually ever done anything memorable except Snowden?
DB: Not too, I would not say at the sort of national scale at which Karl Rove has had the same impact. I would also point out that Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks are arguably the biggest story of the decade. But yes, but your point is well taken.
HH: I don’t, I’ll have to argue about that. I really don’t think that.
HH: Now that just might be a point of personal privilege. You really think that the NSA, see, I worked in the government with SCI clearances when I was 23, so I’ve always known we spied on everyone. So maybe it’s different for me.
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HH: Karl Rove, you threw some pretty big bricks at him today, and so my question is, is Hillary Clinton’s health at the age of 66 having taken a fall, and he got the number of days in the hospital way wrong, and I think that’s just a misstatement. He must have misspoke or he misread something.
HH: I knew it was three days, not 30 days as soon as I saw that. But is her health a legitimate issue going into the presidential campaign?
DB: Well, yes, and for any presidential candidate in this day and age, I mean, it almost doesn’t matter whether or not it’s a legitimate issue, because it’s something that’s going to be brought up and going to be addressed, and that you’re going to have to deal with. But do I think that Mr. Rove was making a political calculation when he decided to float this idea that she might be, have brain damage or be mentally unstable? I mean, I think that’s a pretty, it’s a pretty serious thing to throw out there without a whole lot of evidence.
HH: Just a concussion, and it’s a big issue, and everyone’s right to jump on it, but I’ve got to ask. Were you as outraged when Harry Reid made up the fact that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes?
DB: Oh, yeah.
HH: And Dylan, he just made that up, right? He flat out, flat out lied, right?
DB: Yeah, you don’t, look, look, the point is, is that, and believe me, I think there’s, I think anything is going to happen in American politics. And I write things get pretty low and pretty dirty. And any time, I don’t care if it’s on the right or the left, anytime somebody just sort of throws out an accusation out there to play politics or to get people talking about an issue, or sort of broadside someone with a reckless attack, yeah, I think it’s totally unfair.
HH: But here’s the difference. Harry Reid out and out lied. He made that up. And no one called it reprehensible in the way that I believe John King called Rove’s statement reprehensible. Karl raises an issue that everyone will talk about that Reagan had to deal with, that everyone has to deal with when you hit 65 and you run for the president. And he got, and she had a fall, and he did not use the term brain damage. I just think if you’re going to say something is reprehensible, and you didn’t call Harry Reid, who lied, reprehensible, you have no right to do that, do you? I mean, isn’t there supposed to be one standard in media?
DB: Of course, there is. And certainly, the tone of the conversation among the mainstream media when Romney was running for president was such that the media was not nearly as sympathetic to that, and there were members of the media, let’s say, who were completely willing to believe that what Harry Reid was saying was true, and didn’t do an adequate job in terms of checking it, and when finding out that you know, that he might have just been making it up on the spot, of calling it reprehensible. That’s fine. But I just, you know, it’s always a hard thing, because something comes along, a story like this comes along, and you say well, how can you say it this time if you didn’t say it last year or two years ago or three years ago when that happened? And it’s true…
HH: But these are different categories. Harry Reid lied. Karl Rove called attention to an issue in a way that was abrasive. So those are very different things. And so they’re not even, they’re different categories. It’s not even different kinds of cars. It’s a car and a plane. Harry Reid’s a liar, Karl Rove is a political commentator. And Harry Reid’s running the Senate. I mean, that, to me, it’s astonishing that people get worked up over Rove. And I’m going to ask you this, this is a tough question.
HH: Did you write anything about Harry Reid when Harry Reid lied about Romney?
DB: Sorry, come again?
HH: Have you written anything about Harry Reid’s lying about Romney’s taxes?
DB: I didn’t, because it’s not a media story, right? But Karl Rove is a Fox News contributor and a Wall Street Journal columnist. So that, for me, is my angle into it.
HH: But, oh, okay, How about in Politico? Has Politico ever written a story to your knowledge, because now I’ll make it a media story, that Harry Reid’s a lying liar liar, as Doonesbury would say?
HH: You know, that’s what Mark, you know, the character in Doonesbury, Liar, Liar, Liar. But Harry Reid’s a liar, right?
DB: Here’s what I’m going to, as to whether Politico covers it, the extent of coverage that we have and how much we are like covering every single little development, I’m guessing that there’s a lot. In fact, just a quick Google search, I’m looking at a lot of Harry Ried-Mitt Romney coverage out of Politico, top four stories on Google. But look, I’m not denying it. There is a different sort of reaction among the mainstream media to…
DB: …when conservatives do things, and you know, when liberals or progressives do things.
HH: It’s a double standard.
DB: And that’s, people are familiar with that.
HH: That’s the only thing.
HH: And so I think you could easily have written 30 stories on outrageous things. Ed Schultz posted some crazy thing about gays and Nazi Germany yesterday. Did you see that?
DB: No, I did not, but I don’t doubt it.
HH: Yeah, so…
DB: It sounds like something he would do.
HH: Every day you can go to MSNBC and find just canned crazy, right?
DB: Oh, yeah, well, especially I think once you get into the, once you get into that sort of late afternoon hour and you’re talking about your Ed Schultz and your Al Sharptons, you’re getting into very, very dangerous, very dangerous territory. I mean, you know, it’s terrible, and I think MSNBC is trying to keep some semblance of news earlier in the day, but it’s just sort of like radical and somewhat irresponsible opinion is invading more and more of their daytime lineup.
HH: Yeah, I would just say if Rove was a bit abrasive on this one occasion and got Ohio wrong two and a half years ago, that’s like wiped out by one half hour of MSNBC concentrated viewing. Dylan byers of Politico.com, always a pleasure, Dylan.
End of interview.