media, Politics and Grassroots

Washington, TMZ

The Washington Post’s David Weigel found himself the object of DC gossip columnists for venting on a journalists-only message board – and, before that, for – gasp – dancing at a wedding.

Weigel was a target for this because of his coverage of Congressman Bob Etheridge’s reaction to a couple political paparazzi.  (And incidentally, Weigel was right – Etheridge does look like he’s hugging the camera guy.)  The reaction that he went easy on Etheridge led to his explosion on the list, which snowballed into an even bigger deal, and led to his resignation.  Both his situation and Etheridge’s are part of a bigger trend in DC media.

The last few years have seen the launch of several DC gossip blogs and columns.  Instead of tracking the latest developments on pending legislation (as, say, an MLB gossip blog might cover trade rumors) they cover such matters of national import as the dressing habits and sometime stupidity of summer interns.  It’s not altogether bad, as it’s often entertaining;  But it’s a noticeable trend.

It would be easy to blame this trend on media saturation, but that would be an oversimplification.  This is an environment built on purpose by politicians and their communications professionals.  From state dinners to the White House Correspondents’ dinner, events which were once matters of course are increasingly staged as red carpet galas.  (This year, Politico likened the White House Correspondents’ dinner to the Oscars.)  Celebrities are routinely invited to testify before Congress as experts.

At the same time, much like Hollywood, Washington has created supporting industries around its main business, governing.  Just as movie makers need agents, consultants, special effects companies, costume designers, and other supporting industries, politicians need… well, agents, consultants, special effects companies, and costume designers.  With a community built around a central function, there’s bound to be an esprit de corps that binds people together even more than partisan leanings.

The casualties in this are, of course, old school folks like Etheridge and Weigel.  However, it’s important to note that their failures to adapt are for somewhat different reasons.  Etheridge isn’t used to have to answer questions directly; while Weigel is likely accustomed to the direct, personal questioning that is often a casualty of gossip blog culture.

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