The Politico’s Jim VandeHei on Boston Globe’s Romney story, and the effect, if any, it will have on the campaign.
HH: I’m joined now by Jim VandeHei. Jim, welcome, congratulation, one month anniversary of Politico.
JV: Thanks, it’s good to be here, Hugh. How are you doing?
HH: I’m great. www.politico.com has become an addiction for me, and that’s a very bad thing. I already had too much to read. I hope…how’s the traffic doing?
JV: It’s doing very well. I think we had about 1.5 million unique visitors the first month, and it’s been very strong and steady, and getting better. So I’m glad you have that addiction. We hope to keep feeding it.
HH: Well, when I get back from vacation in mid-March, I’m going to call you and Harris and figure out a way to have someone hang around Politico’s offices at 5pm your time each day to tape a tomorrow’s front page tonight. I think that would be very useful. Let’s get to some substance today.
HH: I talked with Harris about…have your friends at the Washington Post figured out yet that they’re the dinosaurs and you guys are the meteors?
JV: I think everybody in the journalism community has realized that the web’s the future, and that they darn well better figure out the way to adapt to the new technology, and the new way that people are consuming news, or they’re in for a rude awakening. So I think the Post, the New York Times, everybody is adjusting their business model, and trying to figure out what the future of the media is, and I think the future is very much multi-platform, but very focused on the web, and being able to give people news when they need it and when they want it. Most people that are news junkees like you and I, we want it right away. We don’t want to wait until the next morning.
HH: And we also want it all. Now that brings me to the first question of substance today. The Globe broke a big story, Scott Helman, very good reporter, gets hold of the 77 slide Power Point production that Alex Castelanos had a hand in producing for Romney. You’ve obviously read that story. It’s linked over at Politico.
HH: But the Globe only puts up one of the 77 slides. Good or bad decision, Jim VandeHei?
JV: I don’t know why they wouldn’t put up the whole thing. We had Rudy Giuliani’s secret dossier when we hired Ben Smith away from the New York Daily News. The first thing we did is we just posted the whole thing online. I think people, you know, let the readers figure out what’s in there, and what’s interesting. You know, maybe in that 77 pages, there’s a lot of stuff that the average person would say ah, that’s silly, I don’t really care about it, but you should at least give readers the opportunity to cull through it and figure out what they like and what they don’t like, and see what these things actually read like. And I don’t know if there’s a technological reason at the Boston Globe that they couldn’t do it, but I’d be interested to know why.
HH: Yeah, I agree. I think there’s actually a story inside of the story here. Another part of the story is I tried to get them, all the slides, from the Romney campaign, and was told they don’t have them. So there is a huge story here, whether or not Alex drummed this up in his office. But we would start by knowing what’s there. Do you think they’re doing it in order to bleed out the story a little bit at a time, Jim VandeHei?
JV: There is a possibility, especially if there’s really good stuff in there. The problem is, if there really was good stuff in there, I think there would have been more to that story. I mean, it’s very interesting that they have the dossier, no doubt about it, and I think a lot of the stuff about being worried about being called Flip-Floppin’ Mitt, and worried about having too slick a hairdo, you know, that stuff was great, it was juicy, it gets the reader in. I think if they had a lot more, we would have seen it. It would not be unusual for a news organization if they had such a juicy bit of information, you know, 77 pages of a campaign plan for someone, to drop it out in a couple of bits so you can grab readers not one day, but maybe one, two or three days. And that could be part of the plan, and maybe at the end of the day, they’ll dump out the whole 77 pages for everyone to read. But I think that would be wise. It would be wise from a business perspective for them, because it would drive a lot of traffic, and get people coming to your site to read the whole thing, because there are a lot of people out there that want the story behind the story, as you described it, and they want to be able to read it for themselves, and make their own judgments, and have their own fun with that document.
HH: Does it strike at the sense of mission of a news organization to sit on news?
JV: I don’t think so. I mean, we’ve sort of organized ourselves around the way that we don’t even want to sit on it for a couple of hours. Once we get something, we want to post it up on the internet as soon as possible, and then you know, maybe drop it in the paper the next day, and it’s a little bit stale, but at least we had gotten it to those people who want it right away, as quickly as we possibly can. I mean, as we continue to build Politico.com, we want to be able to not only pop that stuff up on the internet, but also be able to deliver it instantly to people’s PDA’s, your cell phones, be able to give people the information they want, where they want it, when they want it.
HH: And you want people to come back repeatedly, as I check back at Politico for the political blog, the campaign blog, repeatedly through the day.
HH: The Globe, if they had been smart, they would have been putting up a slide every half hour. But then again…
JV: Yeah, listen, there’s a huge value for your website to have people not only coming, but staying for a long time. I mean, potential advertisers look at those things. They want to know how much traffic you have, but also how long people are staying once they visit your site, because obviously the longer they’re there, the more potential they have to be viewing your ad.
HH: Now continuing on with this story, I don’t think it’s that significant, even the funny hair stuff, that his hair is too slick. In fact, I love the comment at National Review Online that Jimmie Johnson called in and wanted to know what the problem was. But the fact is, these insider things, they don’t matter. It didn’t hurt Rudy at all. I don’t think it’s going to hurt Romney at all. I think actually, they may have leaked this. What do you think?
JV: I don’t think that they leaked it. I have to agree I don’t think it hurts Romney, but mostly because there’s nothing in there that…you wouldn’t go…duh, of course they’re worried about him being seen as a flip-flopper, because he’s changed his views on a lot of core issues. So that should be a big concern of theirs, that you know, this idea about him being like too pretty, too slick, I think that’s a legitimate concern. I think there is a danger, and I think you saw a little bit of it during his announcement, where he’s almost too darn handsome, like he almost looks like an actor when he’s up there. So I do think they do have to guard against that perception about is this guy just too slick, too good to be true…
HH: I asked him about it in September, it takes up a chapter in my book, which comes out in two weeks, so he’s got an answer for that, but I’m not telling you until the book comes out.
JV: Oh, good. I’d love to read it. Maybe we could post a little bit at Politico.com.
HH: Not a bad idea. Now Jim, how long were you with the Post?
JV: I was at the Post for a little over four years.
HH: And where were you before that?
JV: Wall Street Journal.
HH: Okay, and you know, Tom Edsall said on this program that you were the in-house conservative at the Post.
JV: Tom Edsall, man, he’s about as accurate on that as he is in his card playing. I play poker with Tom. I’ve never talked with anybody about my politics, and with the exception of my wife, I don’t know anybody who could accurately describe what my political leanings are. And as a journalist, I really don’t feel like I should be getting engaged in politics. My job is to try to give facts to people, you know, whether they help or hurt Republicans, help or hurt Democrats. I was actually a little ticked off when I heard that Tommy had said that, because as I, you know, when I talked to Tommy after, I said how the heck would you know? I play poker with you, occasionally we do stories together. I’ve never once talked about politics internally, and he apologized, and said yeah, I was just popping off. I just assumed you’re conservative because your wife used to work for a Republican, which I thought a little bit insulting.
HH: How interesting.
JV: Again, I can’t have my own politics if my wife happened to work for a Republican six or seven years ago?
HH: Oh, that’s very interesting. Jim VandeHei, a real pleasure making your acquaintance. I look forward to many more conversations. www.politico.com, America, is where you get this stuff. I appreciate it, Jim, talk to you again soon.
End of interview.