Berman Against the Beat-Sweeteners

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 5 2011 4:40 PM

Berman Against the Beat-Sweeteners

Last week, Ari Berman published a scathing, critical profile of incoming Obama-Biden campaign manager Jim Messina. The profile inspired more than one counter-profile. Berman reported that the left had reasons to fear Messina; other reporters argued that they had better sources, and those sources told them otherwise.

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When I reported my piece, a number of plugged-in sources in Washington said that no one would talk to me, because everyone in Democratic politics was afraid of Messina (some courageous souls took the plunge anyway). Evidently, a number of political journalists and operatives in Washington share these fears, viewing it as their job to defend the new Obama campaign manager, which begs the question—why can’t he defend himself? I don’t mean to sound saintly, but that’s a sad commentary on the Washington press corps, which should be focused on reporting critically and fairly about those in power, rather than worrying about how those in lofty positions perceive them.

Well, maybe by pure accident, Berman comes off as saintly. He writes for The Nation. He wants to report facts, but his approach does not come from nowhere. It comes from the left. And Marc Ambinder, who wrote one of the beat sweeteners Berman is talking about here, sort of validated the Berman approach.

Now, progressives who wrote about the health care logjam in realtime predictedthat the Baucus approach would fail and that the insurance industry would neverreally sign on to health care. They were right, and the White House was wrong.In the end, of course, health care passed--an incredible feat that owes asmuch to the patience of progressives as it does to anything the White Housedid.

That's awfully sweet to the White House. Basically, liberals were right, which means the liberals who criticize Messina were right. If they're right about that, are they sounding the alarm early about a campaign manager who'll lack the instincts of Obama's 2008 team? That would be more useful to know than the stuff gleaned in the original, pre-Berman sweeteners, facts about he curses (a lot!) and the role he played in opposing Social Security (he figured that Democrats should oppose it!).

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.