Last week we joined a number of other outlets in covering, perhaps a bit zealously, the weird convergence of sudden media attention on White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. We even covered the backlash to Emanuel's over-exposure. We and others wondered how Emanuel, whose influence in Washington is legendary, managed to secure so much good press from so many sources. Some even alleged a Rahm-driven media conspiracy.
But The New Republic's Noam Schieber, author of one of those high-profile Emanuel articles that got this controversy started, says it's all a bunch of hot air. There is no conspiracy. He points out there's been a similar rash of stories about Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (including at The Atlantic) but no one accused Geithner of being the media's secret puppet master. "But whereas Geithner's participation is seen as benign, even salutary [...] Emanuel's studious non-participation is held up as evidence of malign intent." Far from being part of a coordinated pro-Rahm effort, Scheiber insists the Rahmverload was an accident--and one he'd wanted to avoid.
But the cardinal virtue for this generation's political journalist isn't access; it's counter-intuition. Everyone wants to say something surprising, and to generate it by dint of their cleverness and resourcefulness, not at the urging of some wise man they're cultivating. You spend weeks working sources at varying distances from your subject, praying that the scraps of news you collect don't first wind up in the hands of widely-read web reporters like Mike Allen or Marc Ambinder. So you can imagine how it feels when, just as you're pulling it all together, you learn that two or three other journalists have been up to exactly the same thing. Actually, you don't have to imagine. I'll tell you: It's kind of annoying. But that's the way the world works. (And, for the record, I wouldn't trade jobs with anybody...)