Politico, the Web operation and newspaper launched more than two years ago by two Washington Post veterans, is actually a smart and substantive site. But in its relentless pursuit of traffic — not all that different from the networks' relentless pursuit of ratings — Politico sometimes plays up the novel, the fleeting, the provocative take that briefly titillates but evaporates within hours. And that has some critics accusing the site of dumbing down the art of reporting.
True enough. ("Sometimes"?) But Politico doesn't "play up" novel takes, they invent untrue stories out of thin air. The facts are (usually) true, but the sin is in making stories not out of the facts themselves, but out of the anticipated reaction on the part of partisan institutions, like Drudge and the Republican Party, to the facts when presented in a certain light. There's nothing "novel," "fleeting," or "provocative" about the simple fact that Barack Obama laughed during an interview with 60 Minutes. The story Politico pushed in that instance was premised on the idea that Drudge et. al. could be counted on to disingenuously make something out of that laughter, and Politico was happy to serve up the ball.
And Kurtz has batted those balls around plenty! He lingered on the novel, fleeting, and provocative invention that Gen. Wesley Clark viciously attacked John McCain's sacred service to his country last year by maintaining, in response to a direct question, that being a pilot is not a qualification for the presidency. He blamed John Kerry for the faux outrage over his "botched joke" about military veterans, a bullshit Politico-esque story if ever there was one.
Kurtz's complaint is more that Politico tries to write headlines that will grab traffic, which, hey—what are you gonna do? The Washington Post could stand to gain some more readers for it's substantive, serious coverage of the political scene.
Take the paper's Bo series for instance. The Post's coverage of Bo, which was supposed to be a silver-plate Post exclusive, handed out by the White House in exchange for the Post's silence on a gardening story that had been promised to the New York Times, is an exercise in the sort of sober, non-audience-generating reportage that is currently rocketing the newspaper industry to new heights of profitability. Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia is obviously proud of his work on the beat:
Let's follow the trail.
The Obama puppy trail.
Why? Because it is our duty.
Don't be ashamed, Manuel. It is what it is.