Hmmm . . . Maybe the Washington Post would be good . . .
As the political race for the 2008 election heats up, so does the corollary battle between the New York Times’ and the Washington Post’s political desks. The latest salvo has been the Post’s snatching of the Times’ star political reporter Anne Kornblut, 33, who began covering Hillary Clinton’s unannounced presidential campaign for the Times last spring.
The Post was so eager for her expertise that it fast-tracked her payroll and organized a welcome party just blocks away from—and minutes after—the farewell party her Times Washington bureau pals threw for her last Friday night, according to Post assistant managing editor Bill Hamilton. The next day she cleaned out her desk at the Times’ Washington bureau and drove over to the Post, and by Sunday morning she was on the train to New York to file her first front-page byline about—what else?—the junior senator’s first appearance as a presidential candidate.
“She’s really aggressive and enthusiastic, and this is a subject that she knew better than any reporter in America, thanks to her training at the New York Times,” Hamilton crowed about his latest hire. As for Kornblut, the newest Post political reporter described the rapid transition as “more a product of the flood of news than anything else” and seemed a bit wistful in recalling that she originally “planned to take at least the weekend off.”
Kornblut has landed several more big bylines since then—not bad for a first week at a new job. Hillary’s press aides weren’t even given a minute to (not) miss Kornblut, whose coverage was often none too kind.
Could this blow to the Times’ Hillary beat explain the perplexingly tepid coverage of Hillary’s “in to win” announcement over the weekend? After years of covering Hillary’s presidential plotting as the biggest political story around, the Times ran a ho-hum story with a microscopic front-page graphic in Sunday’s paper. Hillary’s campaign was rumored to be miffed.
Other miffed personalities may include top editors at The Times, who didn’t respond to requests for comment. In the realm of reporter-napping tit-for-tat, the Kornblut coup could be read as direct revenge for the Times’ recent snaring of Post Style reporter Mark Leibovich.
But the sweetest comeuppance must be for the Times’ coverage of the raiding of the Post’s political newsroom by wealthy online upstart the Politico. When the Times reported in November that Post political editor John Harris and national political reporter Jim VandeHei were going to the then-unnamed Internet news organization—which launched its website yesterday—Times reporter Katharine Seelye seemed to reflect the Times’ own glee:
“The Washington Post, which has long prided itself on the depth and breadth of its coverage of national politics, lost two of its top political reporters yesterday to a fledgling multiplatform news organization, albeit one with deep pockets,” she wrote.
Some have theorized that the Kornblut must have been getting nasty looks from her Clinton-covering colleagues at the Times ever since managing editor Jill Abramson handpicked her to cover Hillary’s senate campaign last March. Back then, the Times’ decision to put a presidential campaign veteran like Kornblut, who had covered the 2000 and 2004 elections at the Boston Globe, onto the Hillary beat was interpreted as evidence of the Times’ obsession with a potential Hillary candidacy. But the move must have rankled practiced Hillary chroniclers Raymond Hernandez, Adam Nagourney, and Patrick Healy, in whose footsteps Kornblut had followed when she made the transition from the
Globe in 2005.
Despite the much-publicized raiding of the Post’s political desk by the Politico—which has been rumored to lure reporters with salaries in the $300,000 range, thanks to owner Allbritton Communications’ riches—the Post now believes new hires like Kornblut put them ahead in the horserace behind the horserace.
“We’re putting together a real team for 2008, in our political coverage, and [Kornblut] will be an important part of an ensemble cast,” said Post assistant managing editor Susan Glasser, adding that that cast features Dan Balz (who Glasser glowingly referred to as the “dean of political coverage”), political columnist David Broder, political reporter and columnist Dana Milbank, and Chris Cillizza, the political blogger for washingtonpost.com who has been landing some front page print bylines in the last few days.
In addition to hiring Kornblut, the Post has recently pilfered several stars from Congressional insider rag Roll Call, including former editor Tim Curran, political columnist Mary Ann Akers and Paul Kane, the first reporter in Roll Call’s 50-year history to win a prestigious Dirksen Award from the National Press Foundation for outstanding Congressional coverage. The Post was also aggressively courting New Republic senior editor Ryan Lizza, 32, along with the Times and Time magazine, but for now Lizza has chosen to stay at TNR and keep reporting for GQ.
Senior Post sources say the Politico raid—particularly of Harris, a creature of the Post who had come there as an intern and married a Post reporter —had galvanized the Washington paper to get aggressive in recruiting new talent, and the string of recent hirings are its result.
In all the tumult, New York Times Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman couldn’t resist one last sarcastic snipe in his short memo to the staff last Thursday about the Post’s Kornblut coup.
“I’m sorry to see Anne go, especially to the Post, but competition is a good thing in our business (except for those 11 p.m. calls),” Taubman wrote, and added his own news analysis of the competition’s latest hiring: “The Post is rebuilding its political team.” He made no mention of how The Times might be planning to rebuild its own in the wake of Kornblut’s departure.