Welcome Mark Leibovich (NYTimes) (Twitter) and Host Christina Bellantoni (PBS Newshour) (Twitter)

This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital

There’s just something about this #@%! town.

Washington, D.C. is the center of political power, the heartbeat where government functions, or more frequently, fails to function.

This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital by New York Times Chief National Correspondent Mark Leibovich explains all that and more.

The book has captured the insider nonsense, the social structures and the everlasting political industrial complex that helps the powerful prosper.

Join our conversation.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

129 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Mark Leibovich, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital”

BevW September 15th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Mark, Welcome to the Lake.

Christina, Welcome back, and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Thanks Bev. Hi everyone..looking forward to chatting…

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us today. Looking forward to chatting with Mark. Let’s get started!

dakine01 September 15th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Mark and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Welcome back Christina!

Mark I have not read your book but I do have to ask, did we really need another Inside the Beltway Village tome where all the villagers can be excited or upset at the number and quality of mentions they get?

And whyever use St Timothy of Buffalo’s (/snark) funeral as the hook? To illustrate the speciousness and superficiality of the Village denizens?

RevBev September 15th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I would be very interested in how Mark decided to write this wonderful book…

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Alright Mark, you have taken a lot of grief for writing an insidery gossipy book about this city where we live and work. Why did you tackle this subject?

Twain September 15th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I love this book. It’s funny and informative and probably a little scary. I think I made up some new swear words while reading it. Recommend it for everyone. Thanks, Mark, for being here.

DSWright September 15th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Loved the book Mark. Was wondering if you wanted to use your knowledge of “This Town” to contextualize the breaking news on Summers’ withdrawal.

Was this one faction of This Town winning against another – or was it This Town vs. populist anger?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Hi…thnx for your question…I think the book illustrates much larger points than the standard Beltway Village responses might suggest (the obsession with the who’s up/who’s down, the “gossip,” so to speak…I’ve been really gratified that the farther outside of town the readers are, the more they seem to get the serious themes of it — the self-dealing, the power-perpetuation game, the basic disconnect between the moneyed masses of the capital and the people they’re supposed to be serving. That said, you should read the book..thnx

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
In response to RevBev @ 5

not sure…probabaly some sub-conscious desire to make things uncomfortable for myself before becoming too much “of” this world…we need more discomfort in DC, especially as it involves the media..and thanks

RevBev September 15th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I was interested in your portrayal of Russert. In your view, what made him so beloved? (I do not mean to be disrespectful.)

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I haven’t taken that much grief, to be honest…I mean, a little of bit of “how dare an insider criticize other insiders,” but nothing that’s been beyond the pale or that I can’t handle..

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

…I tackled this subject because, frankly, I think it’s one worth doing..I wanted people to get a fuller sense of why the capital isn’t working — except for the people in the cAPITAL

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to Twain @ 7

Thank you, Twain!!

Knut September 15th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I haven’t read the book, but am going to the ‘Town’ later this week and will pick up a copy there. As to the ‘townies’, I recall noticing early in the Bush II administration how many people in government and the press were related to each other. I don’t know when this started, but it struck me at the time as quite different from the ‘meritocracy’ of my day. We are getting together downtown Thursday night for an Old Farts dinner and I will ask their opinion. I think it must have begun with Reagan.

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

A lively and entertaining read, to be sure.

Thanks for chatting today, Mark. Can you explain to me how you can craft a storyline about This Town around Tim Russert’s funeral while devoting one sentence to his media ethos: that he testified at the Scooter Libby trial? He didn’t just testify; his testimony ripped the lid off media complicity with the runup to the War On Iraq, as he said that every source of his was off the record unless specified. Surely that isn’t what America thinks its journalists should be up to, and actually testifies to the incestuous closeness your book sought to explicate.

Why wouldn’t you mention the content of Russert’s testimony while framing a narrative about the closeness of media types to their sources, and the revolving door and dinner party place-card aspects of This Town?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to DSWright @ 8

I literally just heard the news about 15 minutes ago, and don’t know if there were any details behind the decision (whether there was more news to come down, etc)…It did seem that there was quite a bit of momentum coalescing around his nomination…

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 10

Speaking of discomfort, yours: can you describe any professional or social harm that has come to you as a result of this book being published?

RevBev September 15th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Do you think these people can see themselves? Such as how different they seem from Truman or Sam Rayburn, etc.

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Hi Mark,

With all the books written by DC journalists on the power games and power players in DC, yours is the first that openly acknowledges that the journalists and pundits in DC are part of the system, not omnisciently floating above it or somehow apart from it. Indeed, most of your colleagues seem bent on saying “Oh, no — we’re not *in* the system; we’re the watchdogs over it”, right before stroking the egos of some member of Congress, an executive branch employee, or another journalist.

What kind of reaction have you gotten from your colleagues for breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging reality?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to RevBev @ 11

Probabaly because he had a “likable” persona — working class-seeming, accessible…He also worked at it…Plus, he was something of a pioneer in terms of using graphics and exhaustive research to frame questions…”gotcha” questions, perhaps, but still…He was also feared, which does help bring a certain kind of “This Town” love

RFShunt September 15th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I watched and enjoyed Netflix’s series House of Cards – about the intrigue in DC. Don’t know if you’ve seen it, but if you have, how close or far is it’s portrayal of the goings on in DC?

DSWright September 15th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 17

I had the same perception. I figured it was going to be another loss for progressives as Rubin Alumni took another key position – then boom. Kind of amazed.

It seems as though he had This Town’s support and the core of the opposition was coming from grassroots and some grassroots friendly Senators (Warren for instance).

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Not that I know of…Although I’ve been gone most of the summer, so who knows?? Nothing tangible yet…I assume people will still talk to me if they believe it’s in their self-interests…that’s generally the calculus of This Town…

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I for one thought Russert’s funeral was a great hook for the beginning of the book — it really was a moment that focused Washington and highlighted the overlapping relationships that have defined this town for the last 5 years.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

“actually testifies to the incestuous closeness your book sought to explicate.”
This is why I made that point…I guess I didn’t want to re-litigate the Scooter Libby saga — But I agree that there are many ways to illustrate the points, and that was definitely one of them..

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Here’s my next question! Tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from and did you arrive in DC starry eyed and idealistic?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:18 pm
In response to RevBev @ 19

I would like to think they can see themselves a little bit…who knows, maybe I helped them?? But more likely, I’m guessing they’ll just move on, business as usual..

karenjj2 September 15th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Delighted that you’re here, Mark.

I enjoyed hearing you on NPR “Wait, wait” this weekend, and was disappointed that you didn’t get to answer two interesting questions:

over the years in DC, what is the most bizzare (strange) thing you’ve seen?

and who are the most admirable people you’ve observed?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:19 pm
In response to Peterr @ 20

first of all, thank you — that means a lot…
I honestly don’t know. Again, self-awareness is not in great supply here — meanin in the media, or in Washington…But the most common self-defense to the book from inside seems to be, “well, It must be about someone else.”

DSWright September 15th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Speaking of the Fed, you talk about Andre Mitchell’s relationship (marriage) with a former Fed Chair Greenspan being a possible conflict of interest as she covered the 2008 financial crisis which many blamed him for.

I wonder if she hoped to get away with it because many Americans don’t know about the Fed. It’s not as easy a conflict to understand as earmarks for friends and relatives. Is that part of the calculus in This Town – that conflicts are OK if they are obscure enough?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to RFShunt @ 22

It’s not that far away…I mean, they take definitely fictional liberties (getting an education bill passed in one episode), but it’s certainly fun to watch…

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Describing Sally Quinn and Pamela Harriman as *wives* of powerful men, while their careers and social standing were built on the foundation of their both being *mistresses* of powerful men seemed an interesting narrative choice. Was it important not to insult Sally Quinn, surely still a this Town social arbiter?

Knut September 15th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I suspect rhat the sociology you describe is a by-product of what Jamie Galbraith terms the Predatory State. The rent extraction that is now the premier American industry (health insurance and FIRE) has its epicentre in Washington, and could not survive, much less prosper without the subversion of American government to its own end. The potential private gains are immense provided the sysyem remains intact. Whatever they disagree on the people engaged agree on that. Mi think it is significant that the loci of resistance are the highly professionalized cadres in Defense, especially the military, and Intelligence. But they seem to be about all that’s left. The money to be made playing the ‘village game’ is just to great for ordinary mortals.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I grew up in Massachusetts, the suburbs of Boston…I arrived in DC in 1997 from California — I worked for the San Jose Mercury News…I guess I was more excited to be working here (as opposed to a sleepier place like San Jose) than I was idealistic…I worked at the Washington Post for 9 years, which made me idealistic, I guess, about being able to be ambitions with the journalism I took on…

RFShunt September 15th, 2013 at 2:24 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 32

It’s not that far away

That’s depressing. And yeah, it’s great fun to watch. Thanks for the reply.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I did not use the word “mistresses.”. I said “wives” of powerful men, which they both (pamela and sally) were — in addition to their many talents themselves…there was a fuller context to what you’re referring to…

Suzanne September 15th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

welcome mark and christina! thank you for being here today.

mark — first, i must say i loved your interview with on the daily show earlier this year re the book.

what has surprised you the most about the reaction from folks who are not in the beltway about your book?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

oops, sorry, i din’t read your question closely enough, so I mishcasracterized your point — sorry! I honestly don’t recall thinking about that….

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

As I read This Town, one name kept going through my head: Dan Froomkin. Back when the Washington Post kept a bright line between their online and their print staff, Dan was the one who (in my opinion) covered the White House best. He did so, in large part because he did not seem to engage in the stuff on which This Town is built.

In 2008, John Harwood and Gerald Seib came to FDL to do a book salon chat on their book “Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power”, which I hosted. In my introduction to the chat, in addition to describing what was in the book, I noted what I thought was a huge omission. Specifically, I questioned the absence of any media figures among those Harwood and Seib profiled, and quoted from Froomkin’s thoughts on Tim Russert during the Libby trial:

If you’re a journalist, and a very senior White House official calls you up on the phone, what do you do? Do you try to get the official to address issues of urgent concern so that you can then relate that information to the public?

Not if you’re NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. . .

And get this: According to Russert’s testimony yesterday at Libby’s trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.

That’s not reporting, that’s enabling. . .

Many things are “on trial” at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse right now. Libby is the only one facing a jail sentence — and Russert’s testimony, firmly contradicting the central claim of Libby’s defense, may just end up putting him there.

But Libby’s boss, along with the whole Bush White House, for that matter, is being held up to public scrutiny as well.

And the behavior of elite members of Washington’s press corps — sometimes appearing more interested in protecting themselves and their cozy “sources” than in informing the public — is also being exposed for all the world to see.

Froomkin left/was pushed out at the Post, over what seems to be a classic example of the Villagers pushing out someone who doesn’t play the game by their rules. At the time, it was amazing that Froomkin could be employed by the same folks who were also employing John Harris and Jim VanDeHei, so it was not a surprise that Froomkin ultimately left.

Your book is a welcome counterbalance to many of the books written by other members of the DC press corps.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to Suzanne @ 38

thanks.!..what’s surprised me most about the inside-beltwayresponse has been how silly and shallow and self-centered so much of it has been (again, what about ME!!! — that’s one reason I didn’t include an index, just to annoy these folks)…By and large, the reactions outside of town have been amazingly thoughtful…

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Seriously — do you think anyone at NBC or MSNBC has any concept of how absurd Luke Russert’s “journalism career” is? Does This Town understand how loudly people cheered Nancy Pelosi’s takedown of his ageist, sexist question of her and her leadership team? Do people Inside think he contributes anything?

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

So, Mark. You told me not that long ago that you’d like to see someone defend the DC status quo. Has that happened since we last chatted?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to Peterr @ 40

thank you…and yes, that’s some good context..thanks for providing…I always thought froomkin was a fresh and needed perspective to counter-balance the more (for lack of a better term) “respoectable” types in our club…

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 2:33 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 30

When I first heard about your book, I emailed some friends saying “If Leibvich really wants to irritate the power players and the wannabes in DC, he should publish the book without an index and force them to read the whole thing and not give it a ‘DC read’”

You can imagine my delight at the back cover:

WARNING: This Town does not contain an index. Those players wishing to know how they came out will need to read the book.

I laughed my head off when I saw the book, but then laughed even harder when the Washington Post published an unauthorized index of sorts, to tell DC who was mentioned, and then telling the people mentioned which chapters they should read to find out about themselves. The fact that the Post published this kind of proves the basic premise of your book.

Any fun reactions you’ve gotten to the lack of an index?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:33 pm

LIke everyone, I think it cuts both ways…There’s no doubt that he got his job becasue of his name/dad — I think Alex Pareene at Salon referred to him as the “Nepotist Prince.” That said, I think he works hard and has generally handled himself well, especially since a good portion of this town has been rooting against him (for the reasons you described)…I also think the reaction to the pelosi dust-up was a mixed verdict, at at best..personally I thought his questioning the ages of the leadership was legit…

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 35

I forgot you worked for the Merc! I grew up in San Jose and used to always dream about working there. Now, I am not sure I would want to. That said, California is the best state and the fact that I ever left still baffles me. Then again, I happen to love This Town!

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

NO one has defended the status quo, to date…that’s been the remarkable thing..People will fool themselves (and try to pass themselves off) as not part of the world I described — They’re say “attaboy mark, how to expose what we all know.” But no one will admit to being part of it…and I suspect that those who know they are part of it just want this book to go away, so they can go back to the racket…

Twain September 15th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Mark, could you talk a bit about David Gregory? I think he is the most overrated person on tv and is just hopeless. I’m sure you must know him. What is he like in person?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:37 pm
In response to Peterr @ 45

Here’s one…a few days after the WP pubished that index, I ran into Sen Amy Klobuchar, who said…”Congrats on the book. I haven’t read it…But I see that I’m mentioned on page (whatever it was)…”

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

funny, all I ever wanted to do when I was in my 20s and early 30s was work for the Boston Globe (I spent 5 years at the alternative paper there, the Boston Phoenix). But I gave up waiting for them to hire me so I moved to Cali…still ask myself why I ever left too…those were good days

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 9

Politico and its staff are major figures in This Town, which you captured well. But for a pithy description of Politico, it’s hard to beat Charlie Pierce who calls it “Tiger Beat on the Potomac.” The picture you paint of Allen & Co. demonstrated just how right Pierce’s title for them is.

Do you know if Pierce has read This Town, and if so, what his reaction has been?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to Twain @ 49

I really don’t know him at all…We’ve spoken a few times, but never in any depth…I also don’t watch a lot of Sunday shows these days, I hate to admit…But I have heard from some friends who know him fairly well that he’s a pretty good guy…beyond that, don’t know

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to Peterr @ 52

I don’t…Charlie is an old friend from my Boston days and he’s a wickedly great writer — always has been…He was an amazingly great sports columnist for the Boston Herald back in the day…That said, I haven’t seen or spoken to him in a while..I hope he’s read the book — and would love to know what he thought of it…

RevBev September 15th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Sen. Franken certainly arrived with a voice of his own. How would you say he has been received in the town?

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 50

That’s what Congressional staffers are for, right?

*grin*

Suzanne September 15th, 2013 at 2:44 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 53

being a good guy is all its about eh? what ever happened to being a honest to goodness reporter instead of a personality in a cult of dc insiders?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to Knut @ 15

It does seem like the current administration has become a bit of a full-employment service for mid-career reporters…Jay Carney’s obviously the biggest example, Richard Stengel (late of Time, now State Dept) is the latest…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to RevBev @ 55

I’m not really sure…I’ve never been around him since he’s been a senator…from what I’ve heard, he’s takena very serious (largely behind the scenes) approach…He’s quite mindful of NOT being a comedian, given that that’s what many people would expect him to be..

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I’ve been tweeting every time I have the book in a hilariously political place, like at the bar near the White House PJ Clarke’s for example.

What’s your favorite meme that sprung up around the book?

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

In writing a book like this, you had to have looked back at your own work in DC and how you fit into the system and structures of This Town. Did the experience of putting this book together make you change the way you look at your job as a DC-based journalist, either confirming things you’re already doing and wanting to do more of them, or making you change something about how approach your work?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
In response to Suzanne @ 57

it is not all about being a “good guy.” Believe me, I went after plenty of “good guys” (and gals) in my book…

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 2:50 pm

How hard would it actually be for an investigative reporter to discover where Mike Allen lives, how and with whom he lives there, and what’s the deal? It seems as if his protective coloration (first called on by W, etc, etc, etc, right down to re-inventing The Note) protects him from prying eyes. What’s he hiding, and why?

RevBev September 15th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 62

A new book about the very evil McCarthy has come out….Would you say there are any current players as evil/destructive as he was? (Not to name names)

DSWright September 15th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Not sure if you saw my Conflict of Interest Q upstream on Andrea Mitchell but it seems like a good general point about how This Town is getting rich regardless of the country outside of it. How does This Town see Conflict of Interest generally?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

that’s a good question…for a while, people kept tweeting photos of people reading “This Town,” or some just sitting on bookshelves (“hey, here you are at Hudson News in Miami!!”)..I know know what this would possibly be interesting to people…I have been gratified by people using the expression to illustration sleazy insider behavior…ie “I can’t beieve you’re hitting me up a contribution for your campaign at a bar mitzvah…That’s so THIS TOWN!!” It’s also become a hashtag!!

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 2:52 pm
In response to Peterr @ 61

Great question.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

It probabaly wouldn’t be hard at all, I suppose…But I’m not sure what value it would have…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:53 pm
In response to RevBev @ 64

To name names would by McCarthyism!! :)
I don’t know, is my answer..different people, different sins, different times…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to DSWright @ 65

This Town tends to have a much more forgiving view of conflict of interest than most, I’ll say that…It’s really quite remarkable how closely professiona/persoanl/social habitats intermingle here without anyone batting an eye-lash…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to Peterr @ 61

It’s made me think a lot about this…

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to DSWright @ 65

Conflicts of interest are what Other People have.

For example, just look at the reaction to Michael Hastings, the “troublemaker” who wrote about Stanley McChrystal and his staff in Rolling Stone. He didn’t abide by the DC rules, and thus clearly had a conflict of interests in his reporting.

RevBev September 15th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 70

One of the biggest issues noted as dysfunctional is the amount of money in politics. Do the players seem to agree that this is a problem?

Twain September 15th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 70

It seems a very unhealthy atmosphere for our country. I don’t think Washington is working the way it is supposed to.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:01 pm
In response to karenjj2 @ 29

one of the more bizarre things I seen was in a Hyatt suit on Capital Hill as Harry Reid, on Election Night 2006, called every dem senate candidate who won that night….and assured them, at the end of the conversations, that he loved them!!

there are many admirable people here…I’m a fan of journalists myself — that’s my people — so I guess I’ll say “the Davids” (David Espo of AP, David Rogers of Politico and David Wessell of the WSJ — I don’t know them well at all, and neither was in my book — but I admire them)

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to Peterr @ 72

Yes..I write quite a bit about the Hastings/McChtrysal case (chapter 5 or 6, I think)

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to Twain @ 74

agreed.

DSWright September 15th, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Question a little out of left field (well you are at FDL after all) I noticed in reading about Tim Russert’s broad appeal was the veneration of fatherhood that he did so well and was so appealing to male politicians and pundits.

Is there an equivalent appeal for motherhood with female politicians and pundits or are women not in powerful enough roles that trying to appeal to them in such a way is useful yet?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to RevBev @ 73

Generlly, yes…but no one seems in any hurry to do anything about it — in part, because the people who can do most about it are getting paid, and rely on (and thrive on) this system..It’s pretty depressing

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to DSWright @ 78

That’s a great question…I have not seen it…But the Russert/dad thing (which I write a fair amount about in chapter 1) became a huge part of his masterful “branding” effort…not to be cynical — I’m sure his feelings were sincere — but still, it could be a bit much at times…

DSWright September 15th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 80

It was an old LBJ trick if you read the Caro Biographies. He gained power in Congress, especially the Senate by referring to male Senators (only kind really during his time) as “my Daddy” and “he has been like a Daddy to me”

It seemed to work.

Mauimom September 15th, 2013 at 3:10 pm
In response to Suzanne @ 57

Mark, I saw your interview on Bill Moyers and had high hopes for this book. I must confess, I’m extremely disappointed.

I lived in DC for nearly 30 years [1969-1971 and 1979-2005]. I also worked briefly on Capitol HIll, so I feel like I know the place well.

The first thing that disappointed me was your failure to call out Tim Russert for the rather shallow blowhard he was. You say [p.14]:

He [Russert] was a superb journalist — not so much in the sense that he wrote or produced stories or unearthed wrongdoings, but in the sense that he was a guy on TV whom everyone knew, who asked “tough but fairs” of important newsmakers and did so in a way that was distinctive and combative and made for good tv.

My definition of a “good journalist” — and certainly a “superb one” — would not be measured in these terms I’d be looking more for someone like Dan Froomkin, and the fact that all the “important people” wanted to go to Tim’s party [or in this case his funeral] would NOT be my measure!

I can’t imagine folks sucking up to I.F. Stone in this manner, or even to Dan Rather. They “wrote or produced stories [and] unearthed wrongdoings.”

It would be a much better “measure” of all the inhabitants of “This Town” if you pointed out just how shallow their “gods” were. I thought that was what I was going to get.

Twain September 15th, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Mark, what is the feeling in Washington about Obama?

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 3:13 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 68

Well, it’s just that so many articles about Mike mention the Mysteries of Mike, without anyone ever attempting to (or publicly revealing) Find Out Anything. I mean, what’s the big mystery, really? Except, of course, that the guy is America’s Assignment Editor (pace Halperin/Drudge) now, and shouldn’t America know more about who’s winning the day?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

By the way, while I’m awaiting next q….If you want to buy the book (and I hope you will!!), I’d love to encourage you to support an independent book store, like this one…http://www.politics-prose.com/book/9780399161308

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Mark, one thing I’ve always wondered about the relationship between reporters and their sources in DC has to do with granting anonymity. I understand that from the reporter’s POV, their source basically holds the cards — “If you want to know what I’ve got to say, you play by my rules. If you won’t promise anonymity, I’ll go to your competitor and they can have the story.”

But there are two dynamics that puzzle me.

First, there are the seemingly innumerable Senior Administration Officials who are quite happy to spin things anonymously, but won’t allow themselves to be quoted on the record, even when they’re saying the most benign things. It strikes me as the stupidest thing in the world. “A SAO speaking on background confirmed that today is Sunday.”

But the second issue is much more serious.

When a source gives a reporter a story and demands anonymity, and it turns out later that the source was lying to the reporter, why do the reporters not name the source of the lies, saying “Here’s why I got the story wrong . . . and here’s who sold me the deceptive story. . . ” I’m not talking about a source who thought they had a story but were mistaken, but sources who try to spin the story in one direction knowing the truth lies elsewhere.

When was the last time a DC reporter ever outed a source that directly lied to them, and why is this not done more often?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:13 pm
In response to DSWright @ 81

It did! fascinating…thanks!

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 82

It’s all in the beholder, I suppose….many people read that characterization (or Russert) as dismissive and sarcastic…But really, you can’t please anyone — and I tend not to be a very good suck-up (most people who know/read me would attest to this)…But either way, very much appreciate you reading the book…M

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Twain @ 83

Mixed…how’s that for an answer :)

Twain September 15th, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 89

Funny!

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I suppose….I like to think I laid it out pretty extensively here…http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/magazine/25allen-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Isn’t there anyone in this business that really wants to make the world a better place?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:21 pm
In response to Peterr @ 86

Both of these are really good points — and things that drive good journalists crazy and have them pulling their hair out (or, in my case, if I had any hair to pull out)….All you can really do it try to enter into these anonymity/cloaking ground rules as a last resort and hope the person doesn’t screw you….Assessment of character (in journalism, in picking friends, especially in This Town) is really one fo the most important qualities we bring to this…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

In our business – journalism — you mean?? Yes, I hope so….

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

okay, bathroom break….back in a mnute

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

okay, i’m back

Mauimom September 15th, 2013 at 3:26 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 88

many people read that characterization (or Russert) as dismissive and sarcastic

Really???? That’s astounding.

I thought that while your description of him alluded to a few of his flaws [e.g., his milking of the "my dad" meme, the "working class" schtick], you didn’t note that he NEVER really challenged these guys. It was a great symbiotic relationship: the “rich and powerful politicos” could pretend they’d endured some hard grilling, but they hadn’t. There may have been “gotchas,” but there was never any true follow-up, the kind you used to see on Rachel Maddow in her early days.

They loved him and wanted to suck up to him because they knew he wouldn’t hurt/challenge them.

Jeff Connaughton September 15th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Hi Mark. Why is it so important to so many journalists to be the first on Twitter with a reaction, thought, snarky comment about breaking news, debates, speeches, etc? Do you have anything profound to say about Twitter, is it the first draft of the emerging narrative? or just an outlet for frustrated comedians in our Age of Snark? It’s really remarkable to me how much effort some journalists (and other DC players) are putting into it.

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 3:29 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 97

The characterization of Russert’s questioning as “tough-but-fair” never fails to elicit a bellylaugh when I read it.

And I mean, c’mon, “graphics expertise?” — the guy used a mini-whiteboard throughout the worst night in American election coverage, in 2000, with the word “Florida” written on it.

He became powerful, and his funeral was so well-attended and -networked, because he would not challenge Power. And Power knew the guy from Buffalo with “the house that Jack Welch built” never ever would.

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 3:31 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 93

Your response is why I asked the question. You said “. . . and hope the person doesn’t screw you”, which makes sense before the source tells their story. Once you’ve given them anonymity, published the story, and then seen it blow up because someone else has the proof that you were lied to (though they don’t know who told you the lies), why would you NOT out the person?

You’d be saying to your sources and your potential sources “I’ll protect you, but if you lie to me, I’m going to tell the world who told me the lies.”

That strikes me as an arrangement that would cause good sources to respect you more, and drive bad sources to someone else. Either way, that’s a win for you.

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 3:35 pm
In response to Peterr @ 100

But it’s a loser in the cocktail-wienie line at the buffet, Peterr. And that is what matters!

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Actually I was thinking about politicians, not the journos. Are they in it for the right reasons?

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 97

I don’t think I disagree with you…He was the Mayor of the Club…

Mauimom September 15th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
In response to Mark Leibovich @ 85

Thanks for pushing Politics & Prose Bookstore. It is a treasure.

Above, I misstated my DC tenure: I didn’t leave there until 2008. Time flies.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

I thoink it can be useful as a way to share information (that might not merit a story) or certainly links (which is how I find my way to a lot of stories I would otherwise not see..But I agree that’s there’s a ton of niose of Twitter, and jouralists contribute more thna their share…I’ve probabaly been guilty of this myself…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

ah, yes….many many are…I like to think my book impugns the system/machine of This Town more than it does the bad motives of individuals (tho it does quite a bit of that, too)

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Did you sense your narrative going into the Looking Glass during the Kurt Bardella chapter? I mean, this is a story about a guy rising too fast, too high (speaking of Bardella here, not Issa) attached to a tremendously wealthy but politically ineffective Congressman — and suddenly, *you* are part of the story, as the journalist who — what do you call it, outed? — him for leaking you memos from other journalists and other staffers on the Hill.

My sense was that there was too much time and space devoted to this effort, and that your own objectivity on the issue was really the question; but not one you could answer, obviously, being at the center of the story. The bounceback was nice, though — and in record time, too.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to Peterr @ 100

I’m glad to say I don’t think I;ve ever been in this position — mean, ing, granting anomymity to someone with skin in the game, and then have them lie to me…if that happened, I might very well out them

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I basically thought the whole Bardella story was a perfect “story for our times” vis a vis the modern This Town…I would have loved to have stayed out of that story, but unfortunately I wound up in the middle of it — and I couldn’t really pretend otherwise

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:45 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 104

It is a total treasure!!

Mauimom September 15th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

And, to demonstrate that I’ve read the ENTIRE book, I thought your closing section regarding Sally Quinn also failed to include the full portrait of her.

I assume you’ve read the 2010 Vanity Fair profile of her: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/07/sally-quinn-201007

Aside from her shenanigans with Ben [alluded to above], of particular importance to me was

along the way to stardom she humiliated a number of subjects—many of whom were harmless, barely public figures—such as a life-of-the-party lawyer named Steve Martindale

Steve was a college friend of mine, and her treatment of him was savage and uncalled for. But this, and her many other flaws, are never mentioned by you. She, like Russert, comes off as someone worthy of being sucked up to by the This Town inhabitants. Another opportunity missed to show what feet of clay and shallow character the “gods” of these folks have.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

By the way, everyone needs to read the book by this man, Jeff Connaghton, too…it is vital..
http://www.amazon.com/Payoff-Wall-Street-Always-Wins/dp/1935212966/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379285169&sr=1-1&keywords=connaughton

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

My favorite part was where Howard Kurtz thought he was interviewing Issa. Not sure who looked worse in that story — Kurtz or Bardella.

Of course, neither one came off anywhere close to good, so it’s kind of an academic question.

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Okay, so one big question for you as we near the end. There’s some criticism that you went after it with kid gloves — we both know there’s a lot more insidiousness in this town than you wrote about. Gross affairs, serious corruption and manipulation. You went after people who are pretty low on the totem pole, right?

Twain September 15th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Mark, before the Book Salon ends I want to again thank you for being here and for writing such an enjoyable book. I don’t like what I see in Washington but it’s worse not to know.

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to Mauimom @ 111

Sally was, at best, a minor character….there are hundreds of people in the book that I could have done fuller treatments of, sins and all…In the end, I made the choices I made, to focus on what I focused on..

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to Peterr @ 113

I’d say kurtz came off looking worse…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Really?? I went after quite a few rather powerful people, I think (okay, Tammy might be an ornament, but who else?)…As for the kid-gloves rap, I’ve probabaly gotten more “he was too mean” critiques, too…again, can’t please everyone…

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:52 pm
In response to Twain @ 115

Thank you!

BevW September 15th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the last minutes of this great Book Salon discussion,

Mark, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and for the peek inside the beltway.

Christina, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Mark’s website(s) (NYTimes) and book (This Town) and (Twitter)

Christina’s website(s) (ChristinaBellantoni.com) (PBS Newshour) and Twitter

Thanks all, Have a great weekend. If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Mark Leibovich September 15th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Thank you all, especially Bev and Christina…This was really fun…great questions!

Teddy Partridge September 15th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Yes, thanks for chatting with us today.

I hope someday you’ll write the book that will free you from ever eating lunch in This Town again. I know you have it in you, and this one (fun though it was) was not it. Lean in, Mark! Tell us the stories that might sink an Empire.

RevBev September 15th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Thanks for coming. The book is truly fun and a great view of many of those we often hear something about….worthy or not. Nice job here, as well.

Jeff Connaughton September 15th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I think he was harder on DC, did more to reach an outside-the-beltway readership on the DC money culture, than anyone in the MSM by FAR. IMO, This Town deserves praise and the great success it’s had. Congrats, Mark!

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thank you for coming, and for giving us the glimpse of DC otherwise missing from other accounts of This Town.

Peterr September 15th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I wholeheartedly agree, though you have to admit that the bar you set in your first sentence (“. . . than anyone in the MSM . . .”) is pretty low.

Jeff Connaughton September 15th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

But that’s why the negative reaction from some strikes me as No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. To get more like this it deserves the praise it’s due.

Christina Bellantoni September 15th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Thanks Mark, this was awesome. Everyone, read the book. My favorite part is about Harry Reid. One of the most interesting characters in Washington.

DSWright September 15th, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Thanks to host and guest!

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