Get our free newsletter
A former national political reporter fled the District after 10 years for his home state of Kentucky, and after just three months, gained enough perspective to write a blistering take-down of This Town in the most This Town of all news outlets, Politico.
Sam Youngman, a former reporter for Reuters and The Hill who recently decamped to the Herald-Leader (and to the purity of University of Kentucky basketball) in Lexington, Ky., details his horrible decade in D.C. in his piece “Take This Town and Shove It,” which he wrote for Politico‘s high-gloss magazine section. But if Washington comes out sounding seriously terrible, well, so does Youngman—-insufferable, drunk asshole-terrible.
Already today, the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza has defended (maybe not so persuasively) the culture of Washington political journalism that Youngman berates, and Slate’s Dave Weigel has given a much-needed defense of the city itself: D.C. doesn’t force anyone to go to the Hay-Adams bar to masticate on the outskirts of the city’s circles of power.
But Youngman’s lengthy diatribe against Washington’s mediasphere is laced with the cranky assumption that everyone in town is as vile as he was. And that the only way to resist the temptations of taking four flights on a weekend day to shoot a two-minute Fox News hit is to dash for Kentucky:
I’m learning that you can, in fact, say no to TV producers. Roger Stone—the former Nixon aide, subject of countless entertaining profiles and all-around Republican wild man—likes to quote Gore Vidal as saying, “Never pass on an opportunity to have sex or appear on television.” And I’m embarrassed that for a long time I not only repeated that quote but generally adhered to its awful logic.
The This Town/Our Town argument has been overplayed by this point—-and Youngman seems vaguely aware that not everyone in D.C. lives his life—-but he doesn’t seem to understand how anyone who brushes with the powerful can avoid developing an “inflated ego” and a hotel-bar bourbon habit. Was the cold lack of empathy he bemoans really the city’s fault?
When I returned from my 28 days in rehab, in January 2010, it was harder to ignore the near criminal disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country, especially in an industry that has turned neighbors against each other while its instigators clock out and meet for a beer together, skilled actors who in many cases spend the day feigning hatred for each other on camera but are actually bound by their shared nihilism and reckless self-absorption.
There are at least some D.C. journos who, unlike Youngman, always thought they would get tired of seeing former Sen. Gary Hart and Ron Kirk in a bar (since the very thought of being in a bar that’s also frequented by Hart and Kirk is pretty tiresome). There may be a few guys here who don’t think the city’s hot women are “a step above rehab hot and two levels below jury duty hot.” D.C. even has college basketball! As for Youngman’s complaint that he doesn’t “recall the issue of, say, poverty coming up a single time in all my coverage” of the 2012 campaign, that seems like something he might have been advised to try to remedy while, you know, writing about the 2012 campaign.
Now there’s just one thing left for Youngman to do on his road to redemption: Stop freelancing for Politico.
Mint julep photo via Shutterstock