Politico’s Editor-in-Chief John Harris and Executive Editor Jim VandeHei recently sat down with The New Republic’s senior editor Isaac Chotiner for a two-hour interview. They talked about Politico’s role as an insidery conversation driver, about market corrections in politics (as in the flame outs of Sarah Palin, Herman Cain) and who on Capitol Hill is savvy when it comes to the media (not many, says VandeHei).
It seemed like a pretty ho-hum if not overly positive interview, at least until Chotiner brought up the charge that some women find Politico a difficult place to work. Harris responds rather matter of factly and tosses in a little deflection. He tells TNR that in the beginning, Politico was a startup and it was a difficult place for everyone to work, not just women. If that sounds like a PR-crafted soundbite, it just might be because VandeHei says sort of the same thing, just not so tactfully and with an obvious air of being on the defense. “Wait a second,” he says to Chotiner. “I want to add to what John said. I find this critique both offensive and wrong.”
From there, things went downhill. What was that about who has media savvy and who doesn’t?
IC: The critique I’ve heard is that it’s an atmosphere rather than overt sexism.
JVH: You have heard it where?
IC: From people I have talked to.
JVH: Like who? I don’t mean to be combative, but talk to people who work at Politico now—
IC: I talked to people who worked at Politico.
JVH: How would you like me to talk to people at The New Republic who told me you guys don’t have any women? Why is that?
IC: I am not—
JVH: No, you respond to that charge. If you are going to make that charge, and you are going to make it on the record—there is no one here who would make that allegation now. It was offensive to me, just like it was offensive to you.
IC: If I had hiring power at The New Republic, that would be a fair question to ask.
JH: I think women would find the premise deeply condescending.
After that, Chotiner changes the subject, puts the mostly-fawning tone back in place, and it looks like everyone is friends again. Then he brings up Fox’s purported ban on Politico employees, and VandeHei again demonstrates his ability to stray from the average soundbite with a little profanity: “The thing that is offensive is when they have people on air calling us ‘left-wing’ Politico. They know it is self-evidently false. It is bullshit.”