I myself have a limited interest in and patience for the self-obsessed DC press-political gaggle. I tend to be more interested in political and social phenomena than chatter about them. Yet, I enjoyed Mark Leibovich’s This Town (Penguin Group, 2013).
For one, Leibovich frequently made me laugh. He wields comic juxtaposition to wicked effect. The book begins with TV politico Tim Russert’s funeral, a somber experience that is sullied by naked politicking. And so it goes throughout, where readers witness DC players bemoaning the condition of the poor while jamming their faces with truffles, crab cakes, and wine. Leibovich also allows the endlessly self-important media-political geeks to hang themselves. Behold Sydney Blumenthal, once a Clinton Administration biggee, badgering Leibovich for plagiarism.
Blumenthal, whom I think I have met once, began the e-mail [to Leibovich’s editors] by demanding that I acknowledge that he “wrote a widely produced and satirical play, entitled ‘This Town,’ on the Washington press corps…and that is the origin of the phrase and concept.”
An additional value of This Town is its depiction of the bizarro DC media world, where “stories” (not to be confused with actual news) are cooked up on a daily basis. The Internet has dumped rocket fuel into the native DC media tendency to take the most insignificant tidbit and whip it into a hullabaloo. These “snowflakes” draw attention and then dissipate after a day or two of frenzied media chatter. The shame is that this chatter usually requires people in government who should be doing useful things to drop everything to respond, and said response often incites additional media snowflakes, and on it goes. An entire class of people, the inhabitants of “This Town,” spend their lives and make fat livings from this silly-making.
My main knock against This Town is that its 360+ pages concentrate almost entirely on the mainstream and liberal media. Thinktanks, which increasingly try to “drive the conversation,” get little coverage, despite the fact that both media and political people cycle through them yearly. Conservative magazines, websites, and personalities get next to no coverage. Which is strange, because the book’s period of focus is the Obama Administration, during which the right-wing media has been anything but quiet. (Benghazi, anyone?) Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard (to which I contribute) gets a few mentions, but no conservative media people or outlets get substantive coverage.
Is this an oversight, or is Leibovich quietly trying to tell us something: that DC continues to be, as it has been for 50 years, dominated by a left-leaning media political class? Or might it indicate that Leibovich himself is a wee bit too caught up in “This Town”?