The Slatest

Politico’s Shady Offer to Chelsea Clinton Is About Access Journalism, Not Liberal Bias

Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea Clinton embrace as they attend the 2015 meeting of Clinton Global Initiative University in Coral Gables, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Politico’s chief White House correspondent Mike Allen, one’s of the publication’s most prominent ambassadors, has been caught committing a serious journalistic faux-pas.

On Tuesday, Gawker, which has obtained a bevy of Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines’ emails from the former’s tenure as secretary of state, published a January 2013 email from Allen to Reines requesting an interview with Chelsea Clinton. It is not a simple Hey, may we interview Chelsea Clinton sort of thing. It offers inappropriate incentives for Clinton to give the interview (emphasis Gawker’s):

This would be a way to send a message during inaugural week: No one besides me would ask her a question, and you and I would agree on them precisely in advance. This would be a relaxed conversation, and our innovative format (like a speedy Playbook Breakfast) always gets heavy social-media pickup. The interview would be “no-surprises”: I would work with you on topics, and would start with anything she wants to cover or make news on. Quicker than a network hit, and reaching an audience you care about with no risk.

Anyone familiar with the basics of journalistic ethics, which generally frown upon making promises to go easy on a subject, will recognize this as inexcusable. All of it is bad, but the “you and I would agree on [the questions] precisely in advance” is a clear violation of the rule that one should not share questions with a subject or her handlers prior to an interview.

Politico editor Susan Glasser, in an email to Gawker, writes, “We didn’t end up doing any interview with Chelsea Clinton and we have a clear editorial policy of not providing questions to our guests in advance.” That the interview never went down is irrelevant, though. Allen, in his email, offered to break the “clear editorial policy” that Glasser herself named. It’s hard to see how Allen doesn’t deserve to be reprimanded by his employer here, but since he’s so central to Politico’s brand, the publication is likely hoping that interest in this discovery dissipates over the holiday weekend. Allen, for his part, tells the Washington Post, “I don’t remember this e-mail.” That’s a poor defense, since Gawker has remembered it for him.

This seems like a cut-and-dry instance of a journalist stepping over the line in order to secure access to a famous person. Some conservatives, however, witnessed something else: smoking-gun proof of the liberal media in action.

“I think it’s pretty obvious,” Breitbart’s John Nolte writes, “Allen is hoping to curry favor with Hillary Clinton by offering her daughter a sweet piece of public relations on any subject Chelsea chooses.” He concludes: “Democrats sure got it good.”

I am not sure what any of this has to do with Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s affiliation with the Democratic Party. Chelsea Clinton is a famous person. Had they done this interview, it would have been extremely vapid and boring, but people only would have known that after they clicked the “EXCLUSIVE: POLITICO SITS DOWN WITH CHELSEA CLINTON” headline. Allen was trying to secure access to a famous person who’s protected quite closely by her handlers. If he was doing that as a show of fealty for access to Hillary Clinton later on, that, too, would have been because Hillary Clinton is a famous politician who’s protected quite closely by her handlers. It has nothing to do with liberal bias, and everything to do with access to political celebrities. (It’s worth noting that negotiating coverage is something that happens in entertainment journalism all the time, but coverage of political actors should be held to a higher standard.)

There are many Republicans who are protected quite closely by their handlers, too. We don’t know what emails Allen has sent to George W. Bush or the Koch brothers or Jenna Bush Hager, because their emails aren’t being FOIA’d like hotcakes (or weren’t until now). Perhaps Allen has sent similar offers to Jeb Bush’s aides about interviewing his children in order, later on, to secure an interview with Jeb Bush. These are all famous Republicans whom Allen might like to interview. I can, just off the top of my head, remember all the fawning emails that reporters sent to Republican and then-Gov. Mark Sanford’s office in 2009 after the boss had disappeared to “hike the Appalachian trail.”

Allen got busted offering positive coverage for access to a famous person. That’s a problem. Its connection to the political press’ liberalism is more tenuous.