Reporting on Politics and Policy.

Sept. 2 2014 5:23 PM

A Few Questions for Tim Wu, the New York Candidate Who’s Giving Andrew Cuomo Conniptions

Just six weeks ago, I talked to Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu about their hopeless, optimistic campaign to govern New York. Teachout, a Howard Dean campaign veteran, was running in the Democratic primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Wu, the man who invented the term "net neutrality," was challenging former Rep. Kathy Hochul, a conservative Democrat from the Buffalo area who'd been hand-picked by Cuomo as his next lieutenant governor. 

Teachout and Wu, who'd never run for anything, were cheerfully explicit: They wanted to move Cuomo, and the Democratic Party, to the left. "There's a battle going on for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party right now," Wu told me, "and there are some deep ideological divides that sometimes we paper over because there's a Democratic president." Just as the Tea Party had changed what Republicans stood for—and what they could stand for, if they hoped to win primaries—Teachout/Wu would change the Democrats.


One week after I talked to the candidates, the New York Times released a rich blockbuster investigation into how Cuomo had shuttered an ethics commission when it sniffed too close to his own garbage. Days later, not-so-mysterious protesters started showing up at Teachout events, heckling the candidate and challenging her to prove she wasn't a secret Vermonter trying to break the state's five-year residency rule. The protesters foreshadowed a legal challenge from Cuomo's campaign, a three-day ordeal that may go down as the biggest own goal of the 2014 elections. A media that had its doubts about covering a "long-shot campaign" was instead covering two quotable candidates who wanted to humble Andrew Cuomo. The Sierra Club endorsed Teachout/Wu. Local Democratic campaigns started singing Teachout's praises.

Yesterday, the New York Post's Fred Dicker reported that Wu had spooked the Cuomo campaign enough that contingency plans were being drawn up should the academic and writer defeat Hochul. There's been literally zero public polling of the race, but there's real panic about Cuomo losing more than a third of the vote to Teachout, and losing his choice of a running mate. I talked to Wu today.

Slate: So what did you make of the Fred Dicker story?

Tim Wu: I’ll be honest, I liked it! We’ve been sort of hearing that there’s a sense of panic in the Cuomo campaign, and a sense of desperation in the Hochul campaign, and I guess it confirms what we’re hearing from back channels. They’re doing more internal polling than we are. A lot more. And they're worried.

Slate: Would you be comfortable running on the same ticket as Andrew Cuomo?

Wu: I remain hopeful that Zephyr will in fact win an upset. There's no polling—it’s very possible you’ll see a Cantor/Dave Brat situation. Everyone’s flying blind. But should Cuomo win, and I win, I have a very different vision of what the lieutenant governor of New York should be. I view it as similar to the New York City public advocate—I would weigh in and disagree, or agree, independently. Washington might have a problem of too many checks and balance. Albany has, generally speaking, a problem of too few checks, of having too much concentrated power, so it would be nice to have at least one independent voice in Albany.

Slate: Have you gotten a chance to debate this with Hochul? Actually, are you going to debate her at all?

Wu: NY1 invited Hochul and I to debate, and the debate will be Wednesday if she agrees. That would require acknowledging that I exist.

Slate: What was the campaign impact of the residency lawsuit?

Wu: It was a complete backfire. So, I’m a fan of the historian Paul Kennedy, and if you read his book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, you're reminded that imperial overreach is always what leads to downfall. Cuomo was in a very strong position, but he overreached with the residency lawsuit. It's allowed us to focus on Hochul again, for example, and I'm running against a Democrat who voted to hold Holder in contempt.

Slate: I covered Hochul a little and knew she had conservative votes, but I don't even remember that.

Wu: Remember when Democrats had the big walkout to protest the Holder contempt vote? She stayed with Speaker Boehner and voted with him. She took several votes to repeal Obamacare. Her environmental record is probably the most conservative in the caucus. That was all supposed to be secret and hidden. But it’s like a time bomb.

Slate: Doesn't it matter that Nancy Pelosi has endorsed Hochul, and that some other Democrats are saying it's not worth tossing her aside in the primary?

Wu: A few congressional Democrats have endorsed her, and the sentiments they've offered were the kind of things you'd find on a congressional Christmas card. In my experience, if you get three congresspeople supporting a bill, you don’t actually have support for it. Hochul was able to come up with three supporters after nearly two years in Congress. And part of Pelosi’s job is to support people who were with her under her leadership.

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Sept. 2 2014 12:32 PM

Why I’m Leaving Slate for Bloomberg Politics

This blog does not believe in lede-burying, so here you go: On Sept. 19 I’ll be leaving Slate to work for Bloomberg Politics. I’ll be covering exactly what I cover now, but at a different address. Slate’s politics and policy coverage will fall into the more-than-capable hands of Will Dobson, John Dickerson, Jamelle Bouie, Will Oremus, Boer Deng, and whoever else is lucky enough to start working here.

Before I was a Slate reporter, I was a Slate fan—nay, a Slate obsessive. In the late 1990s, I’d use precious dial-up Internet time to read David Plotz’s reporting on the Clinton impeachment. In 2000 the generous and boundless-seeming ethernet (remember that?) on my college campus let me read Tim Noah’s updates about the search for “faithless electors” who could pre-empt a Bush presidency if only enough people emailed them. In 2004, hopefully the dumbest election of my voting lifetime, I sought solace from Chris Suellentrop. When I moved to D.C. to cover politics, I'd shake my fist at John Dickerson or Will Saletan or Noreen Malone or Chris Beam for beating me to a great story.


It took until 2008, and a layoff, for me to finally sell a piece to Slate. Nineteen months later, laid off again, I got a friendly come-talk-to-us email from Slate’s then-politics editor, Michael Newman. The subject line—I am not kidding—was “Nigerian Investment Opportunity.” Oh man, I thought, how fun would it be to work with people like that?

Fun beyond description. This is still my favorite magazine, and I’m only leaving it because Bloomberg’s putting together—I will try to avoid corporate-speak—an ambitious political magazine run by the sort of geniuses who made Bloomberg Businessweek into a great print mag, and New York's political coverage a daily must-read.

So, I'm on and off the clock until my book is turned in, but will be filing stories here until the middle of September. Keep reading, keep clicking. And in closing, subscribe to Slate Plus! I know I will.

Aug. 29 2014 7:29 PM

Mitch McConnell’s Campaign Manager Resigns After Being Ensnared in Iowa Ron Paul Scandal

Dennis Fusaro has finally claimed his scalp. More than a year ago, Fusaro—a veteran of the first and less successful Ron Paul GOP presidential bid—started taping phone calls between himself and veterans of Paul's 2012 campaign. Right before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson had bolted from Michele Bachmann's campaign to join Paul. Bachmann claimed that Sorenson was bribed.* He denied it.

Fusaro kept on the story. He made calls, and released the tapes to the Economic Policy Journal and the Iowa Republican. He got Sorenson referring to a check, confirming a possible bribe from Dimitri Kesari, then working for the Paul campaign.


"I know Jesse knows," said Sorenson, after being prodded by Fusaro.

"Jesse" was Jesse Benton, Paul's 2012 spokesman, and (after 2008's campaign) the husband of one of Paul's granddaughters. Fusaro called him to talk about the allegations, and in the process to snark about his new job managing Mitch McConnell's re-election bid. 

"Between you and me," Benton told Fusaro, "I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16, so that’s my long vision."

That call was released on Aug. 8. McConnell's campaign, which was then working to demolish challenger Matt Bevin before the first-time candidate could establish himself, released a jokey photo of McConnell grinning while Benton held his nose. The bribe story didn't rattle any cages. McConnell spent heavily and won the primary.

But Fusaro was drawing attention to a scandal that had already cost Sorenson his job, and was being investigated by lawyers. Yesterday Sorenson finally pleaded guilty to taking $73,000 in from the 2012 Paul campaign. Today, in the early evening of a three-day holiday weekend, Benton quit the McConnell campaign. Via Sam Youngman:

Benton said in his statement that "there have been inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue."
"I hope those who know me recognize that I strive to be a man of integrity," Benton said. "The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false."
But Benton said he found it more "troubling" that the rumors "risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this re-election campaign."

The irony here is that the damage to McConnell's campaign is minimal. It's a flesh wound. McConnell's campaign didn't bribe anyone. It paid Kesari for some consulting work, but did not keep him around.

Rand Paul hasn't kept Kesari around, either. Earlier this year I reported on the Iowa scandal, Kesari, and the fairly obscure players who went from the world of direct mail to the worlds of Ron and Rand Paul. It was made very clear to me that Kesari was not among the people being brought into Rand Paul's orbit as he expanded his national profile and made trips to primary states. Nobody knew what would happen to the bribe saga, but Iowa allies of the Pauls were already working to distance themselves from the key figures.

Now Jesse Benton is distancing himself from McConnell. Benton said it himself: He'd expected to help re-elect the Senate GOP leader, then go from zero to 60 on the Rand Paul presidential campaign. That smooth transition, and that mutually beneficial arrangement between the establishment and the great liberty movement hope, is in disarray.

*Correction, Sept. 2, 2014: This post originally misspelled Michele Bachmann's first name.

Aug. 29 2014 2:57 PM

The Most Important Race That Will Absolutely Change the Course of American Politics

Wonks! Politicos! Pollsters! Come, gather ‘round, and let us find the most important race of the midterm elections, the race that will prove that midterm elections are not to be ignored, but rather closely examined, read like tea leaves in the cup that is the future of U.S. politics.

The gubernatorial race between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is hugely important. It is so important that it could shape the future of U.S. politics for years to come. So writes Noam Scheiber in his analysis of the race for the New Republic. If Republicans lose the Senate and Walker wins, he writes, then “Walker, the governor who managed to destroy the left and live to tell about it in a swing state, will loom as an incredibly appealing model.”


All right! To Wisconsin!

But wait! Scheiber himself admits that the only race that truly matters is the race for who will control the Senate. Indeed, and in the Senate race in Georgia, Democratic senate candidate Michelle Nunn has, in an effort to distance herself from the least popular elements of her party, hinted that, if elected, “she wouldn’t necessarily vote for keeping Reid as leader.” There could be ramifications for Democratic Senate leadership if the Democrat from Georgia wins office! (But there probably won’t be.)

Friends! To Georgia!

Georgia? Is Georgia the state in which the Democratic gubernatorial candidate is “bringing along enough of the center-left working class white male vote while maintaining strong support among women and young people and the future of Texas politics?” No, because that state is obviously Texas. Wendy Davis could be turning Texas blue, or at least purple. That could shape the future of Texas politics—and Texas politics shape American politics, and so, by the transitive property, your eyes should be trained on Texas.

Don’t mess with careful observation of the race in Texas!

Actually, if you’d really been paying attention, you’d have seen that the Washington state primary foretold the midterm elections, and thus the future of U.S. politics, already, according to Real Clear Politics. And what does that future look like? “Right now, it doesn’t look like a full-on GOP wave…But it isn’t a very good environment for Democrats, either.” (The future, it turns out, looks a lot like the present.)

Give it up. The Washington state Primary may have told us all we need to know.

Wait, no! Actually, Rev. Al Sharpton says that the 2014 midterm elections might be more important than the 2016 elections, writing, “A few months away from the midterm elections, and at a time when so much of our progress is under threat, this just might be one of the most pivotal moments before us.”

Whatever you do, do not stop caring about these elections.

But if you do stop caring, it’s OK. Nate Silver, expert of predictions and well-timed burrito storiessays that the 2014 election is the least important in years.

Stop. Stop with the 2014 elections. Don’t even think about them. (Why are you still reading this?)

Wait, no, sorry. Come back. Jim Geraghty of the National Review says that the elections do matter. (Actually, he says, “Heck Yeah, the 2014 Midterm Elections Matter!”) Geraghty’s point is actually not dissimilar from Silver’s: Silver writes that these elections are mostly important in how they position U.S. politics for 2016, and Geraghty notes that that is indeed important. (Or, rather, that “that sure as heck is important!”)

2016 is important. 2014 is important, too. Wisconsin is important. Georgia is important. Texas is important. The Washington state primaries were important. And, certainly, getting people to care about them through dramatically headlined pieces of journalism is important, too.  

Aug. 28 2014 1:11 PM

Elizabeth Warren Sides With Israel, Not With the Liberals Who Keep Daydreaming About Her

Last month's Netroots Nation conference brought about a virtual epidemic of Warrenmania: The contagious theory that freshman Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is ideally positioned to challenge Hillary Clinton for president, and that she hasn't really ruled that out. I was skeptical, because she has ruled this out, many times, and because of a nagging worry some Clinton doubters shared with me. They didn't know where Warren was on foreign policy. Clinton's neoliberal hawkishness, which had created the conditions for beating her in 2008, was well known. But Warren had never really staked out a foreign policy vision, not even in her memoir. In Detroit, when reporters for the conservative Capitol City Project ambushed Warren with a Gaza question, she Speedy Gonzales'd her way to a hotel elevator.

Via Glenn Greenwald, here's a report from C. Ryan Barber on how Warren handled the Israel question. (The report is one week old; maybe we were all busy with real news last week.) In Cape Cod, a Warren supporter told the senator he disagreed with her recent vote to fully fund Israel's Iron Dome, and that people were "disagreeing with Israel using their guns against innocents." He was not alone; according to Gallup, Democrats viewed Israel's operation in Gaza as "unjustified" by a 47-31 margin, and independents opposed the operation by a 46-36 margin.


Yet Warren didn't agree with them, or with the voter.

"America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world."
Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel "indiscriminately," but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have "not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for." When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel's attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the "last thing Israel wants."
"But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they're using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself," Warren said, drawing applause.

A few weeks ago, when Warren announced a post-midterms trip to Israel, it was covered as a box-checking exercise for a possible 2016 run. What if it's not that? What if Warren has the foreign policy views you might expect from a baby boomer who was a registered Republican during much of the Clinton presidency? In that case, she's not well positioned at all to build a left-wing political coalition against the Clintons, as she keeps saying she won't do. Brian Schweitzer—now, there's a guy ready to go to Hillary Clinton's left on foreign policy. But well, you know.

I asked organizers of Ready 4 Warren about the Israel quote, and will post any response, though there's nothing about foreign policy in its organizing statement.

Aug. 28 2014 10:24 AM

Mitt Romney Leads in Iowa, Which Tells You a Lot About Polling the 2016 Primaries

The 2016 Iowa caucuses are 17 months away, which means that the political press corps must locate a Republican front-runner right now. A little while ago, based on polling that gave Sen. Rand Paul a margin-of-error advantage over the field (one poll put him at 12 percent in Iowa) and residual support for his family, Paul was anointed the "Iowa frontrunner." But today brings an even click-worthier story:

The day after Mitt Romney opened the door to another possible presidential run, a new poll shows he has a huge lead among likely 2016 Iowa Republican caucus voters.
According to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday, 35 percent of likely GOP caucus voters would vote for the 2012 GOP nominee in 2016. When Romney’s name was added to the pool, no other candidate received double-digit votes.

This Politico story, written by breaking-news reporters, has been shared more than 17,000 times on Facebook. In August. Of 2014. How many Iowans actually support Romney for 2016? One hundred seventy Republicans were polled, and 60 chose Romney.

The Romney Renaissance (Romniassance? No.) is an irresistable story for the press corps, based on a few scraps of news that are weightier than this poll. One: When asked if they could retake the 2012 ballot, most voters say they'd pick Romney over Obama. (Most say they'd choose Hillary Clinton over Romney.) Two: Romney has remained just-engaged-enough in high-level, donor-level Republican politics, gathering supporters in Utah this year so they could meet some GOP stars. Three: Romney, like a lot of Republicans, has benefited from a 2014 electoral map that slants toward red and purple states. He won West Virginia by 26 points, Arkansas by 24 points, and North Carolina by 2 points, and lo and behold he's campaigning there while Democrats want President Obama to stay away, or turn to jelly when reporters mention the president's name. Romney can even campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states he lost to Obama, thanks to the reliable "don't blame me, I voted for the other guy" effect.

Yet none of this means that Romney, who is five months older than Hillary Clinton, will run again. Look what happens in Iowa when Romney is not presented as an option for 2016.

Twenty-five fewer people say they're "undecided" if Romney's in the race. Eleven fewer people say they'd vote for Chris Christie. Seven fewer people say they'd vote for Marco Rubio. So on and so on—Romney's a familiar face, whom Republicans were told was going to win the presidency, and his name distracts Iowa Republican voters from the people they have never even seen a TV ad for (with the exceptions of Huckabee, Perry, and Santorum). Honestly, it feels a little cruel for the voters who gave Romney only 25 percent of the caucus vote, and second place, for two consecutive election cycles, to come off like they've got Romneyphilia. They just aren't paying attention to the next presidential election. Why should they?

Aug. 27 2014 1:58 PM

Mitch McConnell’s Non-Flub Flub

Sixty-one percent of Kentuckians support raising the federal minimum wage, but the state’s senior senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is tired of voting on this “gosh darn” proposal, he told those gathered at American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society, a strategy meeting organized by the Koch brothers held June 15. (The event was apparently codenamed “T&R Sales Meeting” to keep it secret). McConnell has voted against raising the minimum wage 17 times, says a new ad from his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes released last week.

Student loan reforms “will make things worse,” McConnell went on to his audience. “These people”—presumably not those of the Koch-minded variety gathered before him—“believe in all the wrong things.” On Tuesday, The Nation posted audio of McConnell’s remarks. In the recording, the Republican is heard pledging to pass spending that will hamper health care service, environmental regulation, and finance regulation:


Saying things to please donors that are unpopular with voters has gotten candidates in trouble before: Months after his infamous “47 percent”  remark, Mitt Romney was still trying to insist that he “didn’t say that” and was misperceived. (Incidentally, Romney will be flying into Kentucky in October to campaign for McConnell.) But the disdain McConnell expresses for lifting wages may not make much of a splash in the race as it currently stands. “The only thing we’ve really been hearing about in these campaigns is how much both candidates love coal,” says Jasmine Farrier, a political scientist at the University of Louisville. “The only difference is that Grimes loves coal miners and McConnell loves coal companies.” Kentucky politicos gripe that neither candidate has engaged in substantive policy debate: On Monday, it was announced that a debate scheduled for next week at Centre College has been canceled. McConnell leads Grimes in the most recent polls by 3 points. 

Aug. 26 2014 7:00 PM

Election Night in America: Arizona! Florida! (Vermont, if You’re a Completist.)

Polls close in Vermont at 7 p.m. There are no competitive races that the non-Vermonter needs to bother himself with. Lovely state, though.

Polls close in most of Florida at 7 p.m. and in the last pesky panhandle counties at 8 p.m. At the top of the ballot is the governor's race, and both Gov. Rick Scott (running for re-election as a Republican) and former Gov. Charlie Crist (running for his old job as a Democrat) have primary challengers. Scott's challenger is a joke, but Crist's challenger, longtime Democratic pol Nan Rich, is the sort of sacrificial lamb the party might have nominated had Crist not come over. She's won over a few dozen minor Democratic endorsers, and made some noise—enough that a weak victory for Crist will be hyped by a Republican Party that cannot stand to look at the guy.


There are some strange races down the ballot because, well, Florida. In the 9th District, Rep. Alan Grayson faces a primary challenge from a Democrat who mystifyingly switched from an easy nod in a Republican district to a primary against a wealhy, nationally known progressive. Grayson's 2012 comeback became a cakewalk when a weak candidate emerged—with Grayson's help—from the Republican primary. If Jorge Bonilla fails to win the Republican nod, we'll know Grayson lucked out again. In the 18th District, one-time Connecticut U.S. Senate candidate Alan Schlesinger is vying for the right to challenge Rep. Patrick Murphy, who beat Allen West two years ago. If Schlesinger wins, Democrats will get a buy in a seat they really never should have won. And in the 20th District, Rep. Alcee Hastings is being primaried by a former professional wrestler. 

I did say that these elections were being held in Florida.

Results will be right here.

Polls close at 9 p.m. in Arizona, the site of a great intra-Republican fight and a magnificently dumb Democratic fight. The Republican race for governor is a dogpile, under which are the bruised limbs of Treasurer Doug Ducey (endorsed by Ted Cruz), Mesa Mayor Scott Smith (the moderate who still loudly denounced Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and has been endorsed by Gov. Jan Brewer), Secretary of State Ken Bennett (endorsed by nobody in particular), and a few other people. A Ducey win, obviously, would be the latest victory for conservatives in a year when people keep writing that the Tea Party is dead.

The other race to watch is in the 7th District, a safe Democratic seat centered in Phoenix. When Rep. Ed Pastor retired, rising star Ruben Gallego (a state representative who left his seat to run) announced that he was ready to move up. Gallego, a Harvard-educated Iraq war veteran, had been tipped for stardom. But his path appeared to be blocked by Mary Rose Wilcox, 30 years his senior, who called in decades of chits from Latino political battles in the hopes of rising from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to a retirement gig in Congress.

Wilcox is—how to put this?—a singularly silly and desparate candidate. She has sent out mailers linking Gallego to the killing of Trayvon Martin, because Gallego sided with the NRA on some gun bills. She briefly challenged Gallego's right to appear on the ballot under his name, his mother's name, which he adopted late in life because his father abandoned his family. Yet Wilcox scored endorsements from some prominent Hispanic pols, like Rep. Luis Gutierrez and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, while Gallego won backing from MoveOn, the Sierra Club, labor unions, and Arizona's senior Latino member of Congress Raul Grijalva (D-Tune Inn). Gallego won the support of Larry Lessig's Mayday PAC, which to Walter Shapiro was a sign that MayDay had no idea what it was doing. A win for him would be a generational shift in Arizona Latino politics. A win for Wilcox would be a feather in the cap for Emily's List, and the other groups that decided that, sure, a 65-year-old pol mostly known for legal fights against Joe Arpaio was the right person to hold a safe blue seat.

Election results will be posted here.

Aug. 26 2014 10:49 AM

Dan Page’s Deeply Disturbing Views on Race, Sexual Assault, and Government 

Does it come as a shock that Officer Dan Page, who was suspended by the St. Louis County Police Department after shoving CNN correspondent Don Lemon mid-reporting, has some bizarre and offensive ideas about blacks, women, and the government? A number of outlets have pointed to a rant Page delivered earlier this year.*

In a handful of interviews unearthed by Rachel Tabachnick of Political Research Associates, Pages further opines that there is a military plot to overthrow the United States and establish a one-world government, that sexual assault in the military is “99.9 percent” fictitious, and that “through our government education system your Caucasian females are telling young black males that the white male is the enemy.” Listen to him for yourself:


Page on TruNews, a right-wing radio program, talking about world government on July 10, 2014:

Page discusses “bogus” military sexual assault on the John Moore Radio Show, May 12, 2014:

Page’s rhetoric on race from a Caravan to Midnight interview May 29, 2014 is deeply disturbing: 

Anyone has the right to think what he wants, even as troubling and utterly wrong-headed as those ideas may be. But as the recent unrest in Ferguson amply demonstrated, when those ideas are held by those tasked with enforcing law and order, it’s not hard to see how things can go terribly wrong.

Update, August 26, 2014: This post has been updated to include an additional video. 

Aug. 23 2014 10:36 AM

Here's What You Need to Know About Politico's Coverage of Vox, in Two Charts

Politico's media reporter Dylan Byers is out with a strange piece describing how “many journalists and news executives find themselves in need of an explanation” of how is actually changing journalism. The start-up, founded by Ezra Klein, Melissa Bell, and my former colleague Matthew Yglesias, has attracted brickbats and mockery from the word "go." There was the launch video, in which a then-29 Klein analyzed the “problem in journalism” of old formats not being ideal for storytelling and context, and Bell promising to change the site if the creators were wrong about what people might read. There was the suit jacket Yglesias wore in the launch video. And there was all the chatter, in this self-important beltway community of which I am a time-sharing member, of how the Washington Post had let its most promising star and his team of reporters walk away—just like how it had let some Bush-era reporting stars walk away and start Politico. Some people wanted the rebels to win; some people thought the Empire was right all along.

Byers' piece seems to side with the Vox critics, but in the least convincing way. I expected some mention of the site's mistakes. (A thinly-sourced mention of a "bridge" connecting Gaza to the West Bank will live in infamy, especially because the bridge does not exist.) There's none of that. “Some media observers,” quoted by Byers, say the site is doing well. Some do not. One anonymous editor disagrees with Klein that anyone refers to “the spinach” or “the vegetables” of journalism. (Some people do.) There is a long parenthical about a 2010 piece Klein wrote about vegetables, and the assertion that Vox has posed “little threat” to old media institutions. 


Is there any #datajournalism that can back this up? Byers:

With all the big news stories this summer — racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Iraq, Ukraine, and Gaza — a site like Vox seemed destined for success. Those stories cry out for explanation, context, perspective. Vox does its best to offer that, and it has seen some promising traffic numbers... More people are reading Vox than Silver’s “FiveThirtyEight,” another analytical, data-driven site that re-launched last year under ESPN — which is impressive, given the mega-platform that is ESPN. Klein said had over 9 million unique visitors in July, and would surpass that in August.

Curiously, these are the only traffic numbers mentioned in the piece, and they are not corroborated by a traffic meter like Quantcast. Since Quantcast is free and easy to use, I popped over to check its measure of Vox's traffic. In July, according to Quantcast, Vox had 8.2 million unique visitors. 

The problem: We don't know what to compare this to. Is 8.2 million or 9 million any good? Let's compare it to Politico, launched in 2007. Here's a chart of the two sites' unique visitors over the last three months.

In a very short time, Vox has tied then passed Politico for unique visitors. A big factor has to be this month's coverage of the protests in Ferguson, which Vox has churned out posts and stories about. After I posted this chart on Twitter, a few people suggested that beating Politico in a recess month of a midterm year was no big deal. For context, here's Quantcast's full history of Politico's monthly traffic.

Since 2009, Politico has maintained pretty stable readership with a big spike during the presidential election. Clearly, Politico isn't failing to “change journalism.” It brought an attitude and obsessiveness to journalism that forced other organizations to catch up; Ben Smith, who edits BuzzFeed, spent his first years as a national reporter at Politico.

Yet Politico has not been a traffic monster; nor has it tried to be. In 2011, it launched a "Pro" shop that produces stories for people who subscribe at a fee of $3,295 per year. It sends out multiple newsletters that are sponsored by advertisers. (Klein started a newsletter when he was at the Post, and it continues without him. There is no Vox newsletter.) Vox's advertising is much, much more spare. Like Slate (specifically, like my interview podcast) it partnered with GE for a series of thinky #Pressing videos. It's now running sponsored content from Goldman Sachs (sidenote: Really? “Some editors say” was a better criticism hook than “sponsored by Goldman Sachs”?) that borrows the formatting and design of Vox content, much the way BuzzFeed's sponsored posts look just like the posts designed by its editorial team. This is not the “new journalism model” people like to think about, but there it is.

So: How can we assess Politico's lead story, and its claim that Vox is not living up to the hype? It's not suffering for traffic. It has not obviously changed the way older media outlets work, in that other outlets have not copied the Vox “cards” or the other innovations. But Vox, like Slate, is a product of an Internet that reads less by Googling or checking homepages, and more by checking social media. The early pioneers in this Internet were Business Insider (with its endless “here's what you need to know” or “here's what matters” headlines), BuzzFeed, Upworthy, and Klein's old Wonkblog. The New York Times reacted to the WonkBlog phenom with a new vertical, The Upshot. The Wonkblog ethos have permeated the Post, which employs a large number of people who quickly run buzzy memes or graphs without bothering to write long pieces about them. There's not much room in this Internet for some say/others say, premise-first pieces—except, I guess, to make fun of them with charts. Thanks for reading!