Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
The thing that political journalists care about the most is conflict -- two sides taking shots at each other over policy or partisanship or anything else. This may seem obvious to any of our readers, but it's not acknowledged as often as it should be by reporters.
The latest issue of The Washington Monthly has an article about Dick Wadhams, who is a classic sort of person for a politics and opinion magazine to write about -- someone everyone knows in D.C. (even I've met him), but no normal person has ever heard of. Wadhams is a GOP campaign operative who engineered John Thune's win over Tom Daschle, then the Senate Democratic leader, in South Dakota two years ago.
Wadhams is now running Virginia Sen. George Allen's reelection campaign and his potential 2008 presidential run. Wadhams' hopes of consultant superstardom thus rest on Allen's shoulders. To make this morality tale more interesting, Rebecca Sinderbrand, a Monthly editor, portrays Wadhams as a souped-up, more contemporary version of Karl Rove. (Her article is called "Rove 2.0.")
Rove cut his teeth on direct mail, but Wadhams is thoroughly modern and aligned with the newest technologies.
He cultivates (or pays off) a couple of bloggers who complain that the Sioux Falls Argus Leader's coverage is too pro-Daschle, managing to cow the paper's editors. "That Wadhams would think to co-opt a pair of bloggers is testament to his understanding of the news business, a savvy that sets him apart from nearly all his peers," Sinderbrand writes.
For her, actually, Wadhams presents not a morality tale but a post-morality tale -- a figure who finally has no decency, sir, and will stop at nothing to win.
But Sinderbrand misses an important point -- even though it's implicit in all her examples -- about Wadhams' true "understanding of the news business." His saying scurrilous things about opponents isn't so much testament to his nastiness as the fact that reporters will run with anything that presents them with a storyline filled with conflict.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.