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Politico’s Jim VandeHei on how they covered the Edwards story today.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

HH: Joined by Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Jim, welcome back, good to have you.

JV: Good to be here. How are you, Hugh.

HH: Great. Well, you guys landed in the middle of the biggest story of the day. There are two media stories today, the meltdown at the Los Angeles Times, which I’ll get to, but Ben Smith I think did it exactly right. I guess you guys are having a little post-reporting gaming of what happened here. But explain to folks how the Edwards story rolled out at today.

JV: Right. Ben Smith, who covers the Democratic nomination for us at Politico, and who I think is a terrific reporter, had, you know, what I think anyone in the business would consider a blue chip source tell him that in fact, the campaign was going to be suspended. This happened at about 11:00, and he posted the item, we put it up on Politico, and obviously, it turned out a half hour later that Edwards in fact was not suspending the campaign. We got it wrong. So what we did is within about 15 minutes, got up there with Ben’s apologizing for, and explaining sort of how he got it wrong, and within an hour and a half, had a very lengthy sort of play by play of why he got that story wrong, which you know, we’ve always strived for total transparency here. And once in a while, you get it wrong, you’ve got to apologize, you’ve got to be honest. It sucks getting something wrong. I’ve been in this business a long time. I don’t like it happening.

HH: I don’t see it as him getting it wrong, because he posted it originally as one source who is a good source. When they pushed back, he posted the push back. And when the news conference…he got an e-mail from the Edwards campaign saying absolutely not, he immediately posted that. What I thought it was, was sort of transparent, inside the news cycle, and it could not possibly impact the event, which makes it different that, say, poll reporting on election day, when that can actually get inside someone’s Uda-loop, and influence the outcome. He’s not going to make a decision, he’s just actually providing information. So would you do it differently if it happened again?

JV: Oh, absolutely. I firmly believe you’ve got to have two sources on a story. You’ve got to make sure you have it right, and when you post it. At the very least, we have to be, he should have been much more precise in how he presented it, and said listen, you know, one source is telling us this, he spoke to Edwards the day before about this. However, we do not have a second source, and the campaign is pushing back against this. He did it, but I don’t think we were transparent and clear enough with our readers. And because of all the attention that Politico gets, everybody picked it up, the next thing you know, MSNBC’s saying it’s true, and Reuters is running something, and CNN is quoting Politico, and all of a sudden, it spreads everywhere.

HH: Yeah, and Drudge picks it up.

JV: You know, I think we’re in the spotlight. We’ve got to get things right. There’s no doubt about it.

HH: When Drudge picked it up, did your servers handle the traffic?

JV: You know, I don’t think it did. I think we got so many hits that for a couple of minutes at least, it froze up, which means there must have been a ton of traffic coming in from it, because we’ve, since our inception, never had that happen. We actually have a very stable server, because we do everything internally here.

HH: The Drudge siren will always test a system. Now let’s move to the second media story at the Los Angeles Times, Jim. Are you acquainted with the details of this?

JV: I’m not, but fill me in. I’m very familiar with what’s been going on at the L.A. Times for some time, so I’m fascinated by this.

HH: Well, Andres Martinez, the editorial page editor, has quit today after being told by the publisher that they would pull the weekend opinion section because Andres Martinez’ girlfriend turns out to be the publicist for their guest editor, Brian Grazer, had not been revealed. It’s a massive body blow to an organization that’s already reeling. But that was the opposite of transparency. Apparently, he gave the newspaper’s editorial control over to a Hollywood producer whose publicist he was sleeping with.

JV: Wow, you know what? I don’t know the details of that. I thought it was going to be something about more layoffs, or people leaving the L.A. Times.

HH: Oh, that’s at the Boston Globe.

JV: I mean, I can just say as a general principle, I think…like what we’re trying to do here, and we’re a new organization, I think, Hugh, I think people want transparency. They just want to know what’s happening. There is always this sort of mystery about journalism, and like we have this voice of God, and we’re operating behind this curtain. And the more we can let people in and let them know yes, we’re human, like you know, Politico today, we screwed up. But say that you screwed up, and be…and if you’re getting criticism, people say you’re too conservative, too liberal, then put it up there. Listen, we’re getting conservative, we’re getting the criticism saying that we’re conservative, or that we’re too liberal. You let us know. You know, read our stories, let us know what you think, because we want more input from the readers, and we want readers to know sort of what’s going inside the news organization, and strip away all that mystery.

HH: And obviously, the L.A. Times did exactly the opposite. Okay, 30 seconds, to the substance of the Edwards decision to campaign on. I think it’s the right decision, I think Americans will rally to it. What do you think?

JV: I think oh, certainly, Americans will rally to it. I think there’s two things. One, he’s got a long term situation here. Is her health going to prohibit him from campaigning. If it takes a turn for the worse, clearly, I think that he would probably get sidelined, and have to deal with that. I think in the short term, certainly. I mean, like one of his great attributes is his wife, and the fact that they have a very sort of approachable way about them, and I think this only humanizes them all the more. We all know people who are suffering from cancer.

HH: Jim VandeHei, a pleasure from

End of interview.

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