Washington Media ‘Sweetens the Beat’

By Beacon Staff

If you’ve noticed a spate of positive news stories profiling prominent members of the new administration of President Barack Obama, you could simply chalk it up to the fawning adulation of the liberal media – if that’s your opinion of the media. And there has been no shortage of pretty dang positive profiles lately, from Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the New Yorker to Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina in The Washington Post. But a deeper, more pragmatic explanation for these pieces exists, as POLITICO’s Michael Calderone explained today in his provocatively headlined story, “How Media Sucks Up to the White House.”

These stories, known in the newsroom as “Beat Sweeteners,” are, apparently, ways for the Washington, D.C. press corps to butter up administration officials now, so they can get off on the right foot with them and, hopefully, induce these same officials to call back down the line when the story’s subject might not be as pleasant to discuss:

Of course, while early-going beat sweeteners may have a saccharine quality, they don’t preclude reporters — even the ones pouring honey now — from writing harder-hitting pieces later on.

Adam Clymer, the former New York Times national political correspondent, said that profiles early on tend to be friendly because the officials haven’t been on the job long enough to develop grudges with colleagues.

“It takes a while for that type of stuff to leak out,” Clymer said, noting that new White House staffers “haven’t been around long enough to tell the mean things.”

But Feldstein contends that beat sweeteners don’t go away after the first hundred days — they remain part of the Washington journalism firmament because of the fundamentals of supply and demand.

“There are more reporters than sources with exclusive information,” Feldstein said. “The sources are in the driver’s seat, and they can leak to whoever they want to. How do you position yourself? One way is with the brown-nose profile.”

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