tv Overheard With Evan Smith PBS November 8, 2014 4:30pm-5:01pm PST
>> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quawlgt of life within our community. -- quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community, experienced, respected and tested. also by hilco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and it's global health care consulting business unit and by the alice kleberg foundation. and viewers like youth. >> i'm evan smith. he's the author of this town, he's mark leibovich. this is overheard.
>> i guess we can't fire him now. >> i guess we can't fire him now. [laughter]. >> this was an improbable dream. >> it's hard work and controversial. >> it's journal list who's provide that -- journalist who price that information. >> mark leibovich, welcome. >> thanks, evan. good to be here. >> nice to have you. may i fawn? >> oh, please. i'll just be quiet for a while. >> this book -- this book was just a great, fun, quick read, and unlike, frankly, most quick reads, it was a deep read. it left me thinking about it long after i read it. it was just fantastic. >> keep going. >> you want me to stop right here? >> good night. thank you very much for coming. >> no. thank you. >> and what i think is most
wonderful about this, this is the world in which you work and continue to work and have to live and work. >> yes. you make it sound like a sentence of some kind. >> yes. >> you dissed the city that feeds you. >> i did bite the city that feeds me, i think it was a city that needed to be bitten, quite frankly. >> no, i wrote this book as an insider. i live there, i used to live there, i have this disease in which i continue to care about national politics. >> right. >> and i think that, look, it's a book that seems to ingest some discomfort into the system. >> it meant that you wrote the right book if they're uncomfortable, right? >> i hope so. if any city needs to be more uncomfortable is washing washington, for as much as people are disappointed in it. this is a city, for whatever reason, continues to feel very good about itself and to perpetuate in a very, very lieurative way, so if this makes a few people uncomfortable, so
be it. >> none of what you wrote was news, necessarily to the people who are there. >> i'm sure they love to hear that. >> but the people who were subjects of your book, willingly or not, are people that are probably made uncomfortable by the accuracy of the portrait. >> i think so. the fish are often last to discover the water. and there was a lot of confusion for many months and years about what is this about. this is all intuitively obvious. and i wrote the book frankly to call about the intuitive obviousness and the bankruptcy that we see every day and frankly, the people outside of town don't see as clearly as we do. >> the original tight 28 -- title of this book was what. >> suck up city. >> i have young kids, i didn't want them saying daddy wrote a book called... >> so you gravitated back to the -- >> the publisher gravitated back, yes. >> but in essence, isn't it
suck-up city. >> in chapter 2, right. people read this as a sin -- cnyacle book. i plead guilty of being a sinic because --cynic working in this city. this book comes from a place of idealism. >> idealism in the sense that you want washington to be better and people there to be better than they are, and by reflecting what they actually are back onto them, that maybe inspires them to do better? >> i don't know. maybe. i would hope so. i mean, i love this country, i love -- this is my home in some ways, but i do think ultimately, the game has overtaken the ideal. i think -- >> yeah. >> -- the wealth that is available in washington, the easy fame, the easy acts in
washington now have really tran scened -- transcended principles that people might have been drawn to in the first place. >> define this. define this town, what is it about washington that caught your eye. >> well, in defining this town, it's important to say that the citizens of this town are the citizens of the political class. >> it is official washington. >> right. these are the people that are yelling at each other on tv on the floors of the house about whether we should shut down the government. these are not the people that actually furloughed from the government. >> the perpetrators, not the victims? >> absolutely. this is a numerically small slice of people who talk about this, who profit from this, who claim to run your country. and one of the criticisms of the book, and probably not the smartest thing in the world when you're trying to sell a book, were, no. >> you ignored the good people. >> that wasn't my point.
>> i plead very guilty of that. >> it's not just people in power, it's people who work for people in power, it's people who chronicle the work of people in power. so it's pill electrics, it's media, -- politics, it's media, it's the lobby. >> the industries around, you know, the government -- or the people who run your country. i mean, tom cohe, a very conservative senator from oklahoma called washington a permanent feudal class. >> yes. >> he could frankly be right. >> feudal, the notion being people don't leave any more. once you're on the inner sick circle, you can -- circle, you can profit on being in the inner circle, going home, performing your service, integrating yourself into the community like george washington envisioned. when harry truman went back
across independence, missouri, drove across the country with best truman. >> the reality is you can profit even more handsomebly as being -- >> yes. once you've been elected to congress or a high-level job on the hill, you can punch that lottery ticket for life because i'm the former chief of staff or secretary or whoever. >> who are the most egregious, without asking you to identify specific people right now, unless you want to, and you certainly identify people who may not have been famous to the masses in the book who are now more known because of what you work, but generally classify them. who are the most egregious actors in this drama that you're righting? >> there's a lot of egregiousness to go around. i would say -- i would say it's the people who yell at each other, basically, for money. the people who go on tv and sort
of as a carnival act, divide -- or give the perception of debate or division, who, in fact, are making business deals in the green room, or who are going into business together. >> with the people they seem to be in opposition with? >> right. and what people don't realize about washington. washington is dysfunctional, blah, blah, blah. washington is extremely functional when it comes to making money, when it comes to helping people not getting things done. if an immigration bill passes tomorrow that's 10s of billions of dollars lobbying, fees, cable-shouting matches, so the town does very, very well when. >> so grid lock is actually a desirable goal. >> absolutely. >> conflict. conflict can be monetized. >> conflict and complication can be monetized. when there's an extra 10,000 pages added to the dodd frank
bill, that's 10s of millions of dollars that can be makeen that can be injected into it, can be very lucrative for the people who are paying them. >> is there anything about this particular official washington that makes it different from official washington of yore? where is the pivot point when it became this washington, d.c. in this town. >> i would say a couple of factors, one is just an infusion of money into the system. >> you date that to when? >> i would say, you know, maybe the clinton era was a real -- brought to bare a very, very new union between wall street and washington in a way that didn't exist before. there's always been a lot of wall street types and administrations, particularly republican administrations, brought about a newerra of cross- -- new era of cross-poll
nation of money and the government. 9/11 was big and the wars of the bush area which grew government. >> it was a machine. >> to go back to the clinton era, you made a point about bob ruben, and that's where part of the money came in. conflict became an entity unto itself. >> right. >> whatever we remember about the hw bush syndrome, there was not a derangement system. the divisiveness really happened in the clinton administration. >> well, first of all, the clinton administration evolved very much in realm of the boom of cable news. that was a huge thing. >> the cross-firing of america. >> which predates the clinton administration. >> not that much. >> and not the way we think of it now. >> right. and also the clinton era, in some ways, was a collision of
pop culture credibility -- or i mean, you had things like primary colors, you had things like the war room, west wing. >> and we made these people into celebrities. >> yes, you had the rise of the seb briety operative and now you have people coming to washington who grew up idolizing these people. they wanted to be george stephanopoulos the celebrity. >> yes, bill moyer is a great example. right now, again, the last campaign --? the obama reelection you had staffers fighting with each other on getting on tv at the end to get the bigger cable deal. >> and stephanie cutter won. >> no, robert gibbs won. >> the other guys were actually
well known. i'm not sure anybody but the insiders knew who she was. >> they were all competing for jobs. >> : you think that's what it was, they were all looking past the election. >> i think it's a huge thing. i think in 2008, i mean, there was a much more -- okay, we want to get this guy to washington, maybe there's -- maybe we want to go there with him, and then we can start competing for white house jobs or what have you. >> but this is a gravy train. >> this is a gravy train. and, look, i mean, people -- they ran against wall street, they did great battle with bp during the oil spill in 2010, financial crisis, peter orzack went right to city group as soon as he left the white house. i mean, they're all endorsed, it's run very, very, very well. again, this is what the obama administration was supposedly
running against. >> but again, the incest that you're referring to, the cross-poll nation, it hasn't always been the case. it's just the last couple of administrations where it became epidemic. >> i think so. >> the obama administration has been very sanctimonious about it. we're new faces, we're not of washington, we hate this, we're not going to hire the lawyer bob barnett. we're not going to go to these parties. >> you mentioned politico, that's a dog whistle for all in the media because it's said to be significant institution of demark ating the revolution and the evolution of political journalism. you have a member of things to say in the book, most of them not terribly kind, not that they seem to care. >> they don't care. >> they, in fact, were celebrating, they were doing the icky shuffle when this book came out because they wrote about us
and they spelled our names right. >> that again is part of the game. >> yeah. say what you think of them and what they've accomplished over the period of time in which they've been existence. >> so for those of you who are completely unaware, politico is a newspaper that was founded by two of my former colleagues from the washington post. their mission statement is essentially to do for politics what espn did for sports. >> : cover the players, the game. >> the celebration, the horse race, whatever sporting metaphor you want to call it. >> it's true. i mean, it's one big -- yes. and but there's an incredible appetite for that, especially in the male-dominated locker room of political commentary and political washington. and i admit that i read it, too. but, look, politics is not a game. politics is for keeps. i don't know if that bears any -- repeating, but it's not
sports. and it has really leveraged and has really, i think, proffered from a very, very shallow, very, very short-term, very who wins, who loses narrow view of what politics is. >> and you think if any news organization reading the book is -- i can say this, if any news organization has been as much of a cause of a decline and been an emblem of the decline it is poll -- politico. >> other organizations, awe gust, proper, -- august, proper, haven't they watched politico's rise with alarm and even know maybe not admitted, moves towards something approachg that kind of coveraged. >> i think it's the internet, twitter, i think it's just the way technology has forced this to happen, but, you know, the
august, new york times, of course, is beyond reproach. >> of course. >> no, it's something we all struggle with an politico is something we often complain about, but watch r washington loves complaining. >> : well, the reality people in washington complain publicly about it, then privately gnash their teeth. >> they read the thing, i read thehing. does this make me a hippo krit? non. does it make me part of the proble i don't know. they've clearly found a market. >> and you actually specifically call out mike allen who has a daily briefing in the morning called playbook. >> playbook, right. >> that has been the subject of -- well, you won an award, the piece about mike allen there in the magazine. in some ways his kind of insider view and his relationships that result in the copy that he produced every day. >> right. >> you consider to be essentially the emblem of the emblem. >> it is. it's the newsletter that
everyone reads every morning. it comes out by e-mail. >> a little bit like middle school field day, everybody gets a ribbon. >> it's true. if you are a part of this political class and mike allen names you, you are alive. >> you have a good day. >> you have a good day. i mean, look, i -- mike is -- mike is all about customer service, he's all about knowing what people missed overnight, what they might want to read. i mean sh he does have this ongoing snack -- in that case to knack to make people coming back. >> apparently he doesn't sleep. >> well, that's the rumor. >> isn't the problem, isn't it a little too easy to say that the problem is mike allen or politico. >> oh, yeah. >> the problem is not the supply chain, the problem is the demand. >> really? >> iwashgtonid not wa this kind of nar cystic coverage of itself, it wouldn't exist. >> yeah. >> because that wouldn't be a way to create an economic model to provide it.
>> when ted cruz whent on cspan with his 21-hour filibuster, their ratings went up 21%. >> barney had this great line a few years ago, everybody's always complaining about congress, the voters are no picnic either. >> and he's right. >> that was a very transparent moment for barne frank, but i think, now, look, there was a really good column by a metro reporter a few weeks ago saying, hey, don't blame us for being washington. you send your congress people here. >> right. snie mean, you can -- -- i mean, congress can have a 12% approval rating or what have you -- >> but they're ours. we sent them. >> absolutely, man. >> what's up with journalism in a general sense, offline from washington. you've been at both washington post and the new york times. you've seen the very best institutionally of journalism, but the business that you and i have been in for years is in a really interesting dynamic, it may be the most positive way to
say it. >> interesting might be the most positive way to say it. >> offer your point of view on weather the business we're in is healthy or not and whether the future is bright or gloomy. >> yeah. i mean, the problem with the media is as you know, it's people. there are a lot of -- you know, some incredibly good journalists working today -- or who are not working today just tragically. i mean, i think that media, more than ever, i mean, certainly newspapers are trying to fine their way. there's a redefinition going on. >> right. >> no one's really figured out how to make money on the internet that well, and hopefully the better angels will prevail. i think one of the challenges that we at new york times and paipal like the wall street journal and texas tribune face is just making sure that we do not appeal to the lowest common denominator that's -- that's actually the market niche in a
lot of places. >> you're talking about bus by. >> i'm not specifically talk about buzz beat. i think leveraging a very, very small attention span, the science of clickbility or stickability or googlebility or whatever the word is, these are not word that's existed a few years ago. >> you know there's a thing circulating on the internet right now is buzz fed without the chips, you know. >> i never understood that. >> i'm pronouncing it that way. whatever it is, people are saying if you take away the splash andhe fun part of it, that substantively there's not much there. the people who are succeeding are the ones who's work once upon a time we might have looked down on. >> and how do we resist the temptation to go down and meet them down there. >> i was in new hampshire a few weeks ago doing a talk, and a
reporter -- a 25-year-old reporter came up to me afterwards and say, look, i love being a reporter. i'm fascinated by washington, i see all these people my age who are working for buzz feed, working for politico, they have twitter followings of 20,000, everyone knows who they are, they get on tv, they're on cable, how do i get in? it looks so remon tick 92 that's what this -- romantic. >> that's what this person wants. >> you're actually writing stories that affect the people that you talk to. yes, i mean, like every newspaper, especially every small newspaper, it has its challenges, but i would recommend to you and to anyone to stay out of town -- even if you want to come to washington as some point, stay out of town long enough to learn what a community is like, learn enough at least about yourself to know, you know, what is real and what is not real, because these cat videos on buzz feed are not real. they're at this time lating, your -- twitter followings are
knot you, your facebook pages are not you, the fake friendships you'll get in washington are commensurate to the fake friends you'll have on facebook. live a real life, and it's really, really easy, once you're in washington especially, to believe this is what is real. >> new york times reporter, are you sorry not to be working there under the jeff era or happy not to be working there? >> i'm very happy at the new york times and very, very lucky to have a joob. >> yes. that was not the question i asked. >> no, i would say this: i know a lot of people -- i feel in many ways consider it the home team. i spent nine great years there. i'm rooting for it. it's nice that jeff has a ton of money, it looks like he's willing to put some of it into it. like a billion he can spare, maybe. a couple things about jeff. amazon is an amazingly successful company built on customer service. customer service in journalism
is a really trickty and precarious term. it is cat videos in many ways. if readers want cat videos, we will give you cat videos. if you want one-click shopping, we'll give you one-click shopping, amazon. so he will glibly say, i'll just be focused on readers the same way i've been focused on customers. i doubt that it's transferable. he was at the post last montd meeting the -- month meeting the past and he said, here, look, here's my vision statement, don't be boring. and ever's like, yeah, let's don't be boring. who do you think he's talking about, guys? serious reporting is occasionally boring. >> yes. look. don't be boring. okay, so this guy's some genius who's imposing this on us. what i love about journalism it exercises a completely different side of your brain. it is not the amazon, you know, whatever algorithms that their jean uses use. i -- jeaniouses use.
-- gene uses use. >> i would be very, very -- >> the flip side is he's figured out something with technology that have improved the trance transactional business, right. >> yeah. >> if they could be deployed properly, not improperly, to journalism, maybe he ultimately drives people cocondent they would not be -- content they would not be likely drawn to. >> keyword maybe. >> no, look. i guess i would say better jeff than some of the idiot whose have been buying into newspapers over the years and there have been quite a few and there's a long list of broken and destroyed newspapers and former journalists to show for it. >> yeah. >> he might as well have a shot. >> and in the end, whether you're at the home team, the washington post or not, we all need to be pulling for someone. >> absolutely. >> to figure out how this kind of work can continue. >> absolutely. >> because at the end of the day, this town needs honest journalists who are not buying
into the bs, to write about what's really going on so the rest of us out here in the world can know about it. >> right. news journalist have to eat for free. these parties have to continue. that was a joke everyone. sorry. >> yeah, i thought this took an odd turn. >> yeah, no, no, no. i was changing things up a little bit. >> yeah. >> we want to figure out a way. >> let's make it work. >> again, i just love -- i love the book. i think anybody who wants to understand what's actually going on in washington should read it, so i may read it again. but i thought it was a wonderful -- what a great success for you. >> thank you. >> mark leibovich. >> thank you very much. >> we'd love to have you join us in the studio, visit our website at -- klru.org/overheard. >> people wouldn't pay attention to ted cruz as much if he were
not a threat to absolutely shaking up the republican nominating process for president, or if he were not capable of holding, you know, much of his caucus, you know, both in the house and the senate, by the you know what. >> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community, experienced, respected, invested. also by hilco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and its global healthcare consulting business unit, hilco health. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and