Jim VandeHei is the CEO and co-founder of Axios. He’s a powerful D.C. journalist. Recently Michael Schaffer, an editor at Politico, asked VandeHei if he was open to being the subject of a profile. VandeHei said yes.
VandeHei got shivved. The sarcastic profile talks about how VandeHei’s newsletter, once steely, is now perfumed with new-agey advice about living your best life, spreading the love and letting go of your “worse instincts.” In other words, Jim’s gone a little Oprah.
VandeHei didn’t like the piece, and confronted Politico editor Matt Kaminski at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Yet after what started as a promising near-fracas, VandeHei retreated back to the therapeutic bromides that made him the subject of the unflattering profile in the first place. The Free Beacon reports: “VandeHei recalled that he was drinking tequila at the Swiss ambassador's house when he saw Kaminski. ‘I put down my drink, put my hand on his shoulder, and told him the column was a piece of shit and that he should be ashamed for greenlighting it,’ the Axios boss wrote. ‘We had a spirited chat. I'm pretty sure I ended it by saying: ‘You are dead to me.’” (VandeHei was once a co-founder of Politico.)
VandeHei then wrote about the experience for Axios. He argues, incredibly, that he thought Schaffer “was on the level, and insisted he admired the culture inside Axios—a big focus of this column. So, I bit. Our hourlong interview was thoughtful and very friendly. I kinda liked the guy. Sucker!” The final profile “was snarky, cynical and inaccurate. It pissed me off.” VandeHei emphasized that “in conflict, I want to argue, prove myself right or righteous—and win, decisively.” He also faced reality: “Was Kaminski really going to admit he or his boss ordered up a petty little cheap shot? Fat chance.”
This seemed like the prelude to a beat-down. But then, on the edge of battle, VandeHei retreated. “We need to reckon with what fuels our worst impulses,” VandeHei wrote, slipping into his new Dr. Phil mode. “In this case, it's probably a mix of ego, pride (I throw all of myself into things I care about, so any attack can feel like a shot at my core being) and self-righteousness.” He went on: “It's easy to convince yourself you're simply being principled and fighting for what's right. But when that same impulse is behind most of your bad decisions, try a different lens. If a habit or tendency leads to a bad result more than once, it's gut-check time.”
VandeHei then thanked the healers who’vehelped him embrace the chill orb: “My wife, Autumn, and co-founders, Roy and Mike, are quite proficient at telling me to chill out and focus on what actually matters. We all need hard-truth tellers to hold us accountable.”
VandeHei needs to embrace his former killer ape. He needs to pull a Henry Allen. Allen was a journalist at The Washington Post for decades. He served in the Marines in Vietnam and won a Pulitzer prize in 2000 for criticism. In 2009 Allen didn’t like a story by Manuel Roig-Franzia. “This is total crap,” Allen said. “It’s the second worst story I have seen in Style in 43 years.” Manuel Roig-Franzia heard Allen.“Oh, Henry,” he supposedly said, “don’t be such a cocksucker.” According to the Washingtonian, “Allen lunged at Roig-Franzia, threw him to the newsroom floor, and started throwing punches. Roig-Franzia tried to fend him off.” Other editors “pulled the two apart.”
That’s more like it! Journalists are scum, and crystals and mediation are no way to deal with them. (I did find it ironic that uber-woke Roig-Franzia called combat Marine Allen a cocksucker and not the other way around). Incredibly, Jim VandeHei has no concept of how the media works today, how corrupt it has become—how journalists are a bunch of cocksuckers. It shows that it’s possible to be the co-founder of several media companies in D.C. and have no street smarts. VandeHei hasn’t even grasped the fundamentals: the media lies. They have the story written before they call you. When they get stuff wrong, they never correct, because they never intended to tell the truth in the first place. VandeHei doesn’t know this?
At one time, journalism could often resemble the UFC. Drew Pearson, a once-famous Washington columnist, once got his ass kicked by Sen. Joe McCarthy. It was December 12, 1950. Both men were at a fancy event near Dupont Circle in D.C. when Pearson, on his way to the cloak room after dinner, was, as one account describes it, “grabbed from behind, spun around, slapped, choked and kneed in the groin by McCarthy.” Pearson was saved by newly-elected Sen. Richard Nixon, who allowed Pearson to escape. McCarthy said to Nixon, “You shouldn’t have stopped me Dick.”
Maybe not. Drew Pearson was a terrible person. President Franklin Roosevelt called him a “chronic liar.” Pearson claimed Ronald Reagan had been involved in a homosexual sex ring, and came after Shirley Temple who he complained was running for Congress as a moralist when she was a divorcee. Pearson reported that 90 percent of the ships at Pearl Harbor were “wiped out,” when the figure was more like 20 percent. As a 2021 New York Times review by Richard Tofel of a book about Pearson put it, “With the war ended, he was almost alone in reporting the growing mental instability of Defense Secretary James Forrestal, but kept up that reporting—including inaccurate particulars—even after the Secretary resigned; many in Washington blamed Pearson for Forrestal’s eventual suicide.” Pearson, Tofel noted, “denigrated—and, it seems, occasionally blackmailed—politicians who crossed him or whose views he opposed, while writing speeches and suppressing stories for those he liked.”
Tofel's Conclusion: “Pearson gained his power playing by pre-modern rules of journalism that we would now find reprehensible, and were often a bit much even for his contemporaries.”
Drew Pearson was a cocksucker.
These “pre-modern rules of journalism” that Tofel refers to—lies and personal attacks—aren’t the premodern rules of journalism. They’re the modern rules of journalism. There are no rules.
Janet Malcolm on reporters: "“He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and “the public’s right to know”; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.”"