Those “Game Change” guys sure know how to do a media rollout.
Not to mention come up with buzz-generating tidbits for their books.
It was always going to be hard for Mark Halperin and John Heilemann to top “Game Change,” given that they didn’t have Sarah Palin as a character and that, well, 2012 was no 2008 on the excitement meter.
So they documented this tantalizing tidbit, that White House officials not only considering dumping Joe Biden for Hillary Clinton, they ordered up polling and focus groups on the potential switch.
Now obviously that was a blip—Biden remains in the vice president’s mansion—but it sure generated plenty of publicity (including a story by me on “Special Report.”)
It didn’t hurt that the New York Times, followed by the Washington Post, obtained advance copies of the new book “Double Down” just before the weekend. Were these deliberately leaked by the publisher? I’ve got no idea, but it will certainly stoke sales. And they were followed on Saturday by excerpts in the authors’ magazines, Time and New York.
By the time Halperin and Heilemann, both MSNBC contributors, begin their media rollout this morning on “Today,” they’ve already got tongues wagging about their behind-the-scenes volume. The same thing seems to happen with every Bob Woodward book—someone lands an advance copy, sometimes screwing up exclusive excerpt or interview deals, but also providing rocket fuel for the launch.
Journalists certainly appreciate the value of a well-timed leak.
So how seriously should we take the Biden/Hillary option? It was a radical switch that would have smacked of desperation, even if the secretary of State was willing to do it. Of course the Obama campaign would consider all options when the candidate was struggling in late 2011; the administration probably has contingency plans to invade Canada. Ex-chief of staff Bill Daley, while confirming the story, calls it “an overhype with a book coming out on this issue,” according to Politico.
But I think it’s newsworthy nonetheless. The episode provides an insight into the mindset of the campaign and the anxiety of the Obama team, not to mention the fact that someone in the White House or campaign would leak it with Biden still eyeing 2016.
Someone in Obama World clearly wanted to damage the veep and give Hillary a boost.
There are other scooplets in “Double Down”: Mitt Romney crossed Chris Christie off his VP short list after the New Jersey governor, in the campaign’s view, failed to fully answer vetting questions about his political background and his health. And in a more gossipy vein, the authors say Obama chafed at having too spend too much time with the voluble Bill Clinton, once telling aides after cutting short a golf game: “I like him…in doses.”
People like this kind of stuff because it gives them a sense of what the players are like away from the cameras.
One issue, which I have faced as an author, is whether Halperin and Heilemann were holding legitimate news for their book instead of reporting it during the campaign. Of course, they may have learned about the Biden business after the election. But sources are also willing to be more candid for a book down the road that for something that’s going to be on “Morning Joe” the next day—meaning that it couldn’t be obtained for real-time use.
What’s funny is hearing people make pronouncements about the book when they, like me, haven’t been able to read it.
But this excerpt is worth the price of the book. It captures how the president’s debate team was freaking out just before the second debate at Hofstra, after the disaster in Denver, and staged an intervention to convince the boss to deliver shorter, more passionate, more engaging answers:
“Obama didn’t flinch. ‘Guys, I’m struggling,’ he said somberly. ‘Last night wasn’t good, and I know that. Here’s why I think I’m having trouble. I’m having a hard time squaring up what I know I need to do, what you guys are telling me I need to do, with where my mind takes me, which is: I’m a lawyer, and I want to argue things out. I want to peel back layers.’
“The ensuing presidential soliloquy went on for ten minutes—an eternity in Obama time. His tone was even and unemotional, but searching, introspective, diagnostic, vulnerable. Psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually, he was placing his cards face up on the table.
“‘When I get a question,’ he said, ‘I go right to the logical.’ You ask me a question about health care. There’s a problem, and there’s a response. Here’s what my opponent might say about it, so I’m going to counteract that. Okay, we’re gonna talk about immigration. Here’s what I’d like to say—but I can’t say that. Think about what that means. I know what I want to say, I know where my mind takes me, but I have to tell myself, No, no, don’t do that—do this other thing. It’s against my instincts just to perform. It’s easy for me to slip back into what I know, which is basically to dissect arguments. I think when I talk. It can be halting. I start slow. It’s hard for me to just go into my answer. I’m having to teach my brain to function differently. I’m left-handed; this is like you’re asking me to start writing right-handed.’”
Now I question whether that’s a verbatim account, as opposed to one reconstructed from sources. But you can see some of those problems today in his handling of the botched health care rollout.
Barbara Walters Encore
If you missed my “Media Buzz” interview with her yesterday, here she is talking about why she soured on her former show “20/20,” criticism of “The View” and Jenny McCarthy, and the bottom line on why she’s retiring.
Lax Reporting on LAX
Is it still news—after the mistakes that marred the Boston Marathon bombing, the Washington Navy Yard massacre and other tragedies—that some in the media can’t get it right?
I still don’t understand why some news outlets go with unconfirmed information in the midst of chaos. But during Friday’s shooting at the L.A. airport, it happened, to the point of killing off a prominent ex-official. The Verge has this report:
“As with Hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombings, and countless other major stories, news of today's shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport was sometimes muddled with misinformation. A hoax tweet led The Globe and Mail to report that outspoken ex-NSA head Michael Hayden had been shot and killed by a ‘radical Christian group,’ and an errant LA Times story spread news that the shooter had been a TSA employee, and that he had been shot dead — both claims that were later refuted. But while it's a truism that the world of fast-paced Twitter sound bites have created a powerful but dangerous broadcasting tool, today's games of telephone raise a fairly simple question: how do you organize a coherent story from small, nebulous, or outright incorrect bursts of information?...
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.