Hardball Panelist Whines: Townhallers Only Getting News From Limbaugh, Drudge and Fox News

NBC's Chuck Todd, substitute hosting for Chris Matthews on Monday's Hardball, invited on Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum and the Politico's Jonathan Martin to navel gaze about what ailed the political structure as Todd questioned "Is Washington broke and beyond repair?" Pivoting off a Purdum article, that in part, blamed lobbyists, Martin offered his own explanation as he brought up the typical mainstream media boogeymen of the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. 

After Todd noted that it's not just the "lobbying community" causing distress in D.C., that the "media is playing a role here" and "it's not clear which came first, the polarized Washington or the polarized way that people get information," Martin buttressed Todd's point by offering his personal account of a Florida townhall meeting where he claimed voters there were only "listening to Rush Limbaugh," "reading Drudge" and "watching Fox News."

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: But it's also, it's also the break down in not just Washington media but in regional newspapers. Last August, a year ago, I was down in Florida, the panhandle, going to Allen Boyd town hall meetings. The folks at those town hall meetings - Chuck, they, they were not reading the Pensacola News Journal, they were not reading the Tallahassee Democrat, they were listening to Rush Limbaugh, they were reading Drudge, and they were watching-

CHUCK TODD: Local news has gone national.

MARTIN: -and they were watching Fox News. And that's where they got their information entirely!

The following is the full exchange as it was aired on the August 9 edition of Hardball:

CHUCK TODD: Well, we are back. Is Washington broke and beyond repair? Vanity Fair's national editor Todd Purdum has a great big piece. One of those big think pieces in the latest issue of the magazine, which of course has Lady Gaga on the cover, because you have to sell the magazine. But it's called "Washington, We Have A Problem." We're also joined by a Washingtonian from birth, Politico's senior political reporter Jonathan Martin. And look you've gotten, Todd, you've gotten a lot of attention for this piece. This idea that it's broken. I think Rahm Emanuel refers to Washington, in cementing his own four letter legacy as "F" Nutsville. But one part of your piece has not gotten a lot of attention and it was striking to me and that was the fact that the media is not the Fourth Estate it's the industry of lobbying. Let me, this figure you used, you said in 2009 expenditures for lobbying - $3.5 billion, with a "b" dollars or $1.3 million for each hour that Congress was in session according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That's, that to me, is the eye opener of this piece, almost more than anything now.

TODD PURDUM, VANITY FAIR: It's pretty incredible. And a single lobbying entity, the Chamber of Commerce, spent $144 million last year, which is more than the combined payroll of all 535 members of Congress. So I mean the, the stakes are so wildly disproportionate in terms what have resources can be brought to bear. And the typical congressman or senator, you know, doesn't need that much. John Breaux, senator from Louisiana once famously said, "My vote can't be bought, it can occasionally be rented."

TODD: You know Jonathan I was looking at this piece and I went into it with a little bit - cynical. You know is Washington broken? You know what? We're all gonna thumb suck. You see a number like that though and you say, "Okay think maybe things have changed." This lobbying community, like I said, you've grown up around here.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: Right.

TODD: K Street is no longer just a street. It's a community.

MARTIN: Well it's the entire, it's the entire culture now of Washington. And also, if you go to the Hill, those bills are frequent, this is not a cliche, those bills are actually written by lobbyists. I mean the actual language itself, because the lobbyists are the only ones that actually are the experts on the issues. They're the ones feeding the committee staff, the actual language of the bills. That's a fact. But I was struck, Chuck, in this piece and also the New York piece by George Packer about the U.S. Senate.

PURDUM: Wonderful piece.

MARTIN: Two things. Increasingly, the, the real campaigns are played out within the parties themselves, not against each other, R's versus D's. But these folks are so scared of primaries nowadays that you've got now Republicans, for example talking about overturning the 14th Amendment. Why are they doing that? Does Mitch McConnell suddenly care about this issue? I would doubt it seriously. They are scared of a radicalized GOP base that, that right now is demanding action on immigration and they're talking about addressing this issue because they're scared of their own base and being primaried. That's what drives the folks on the R side and the D side now increasingly. It's primaries.

TODD: Now you, rightly, I think put a focus, Todd, on this, the, the lobbying community as this sort of hidden Fourth Estate that no one talks about. You hear it sort of used as a punching bag. But the media is playing a role here, a little bit, too. And that is the fact that it's not clear which came first, the polarized Washington or the polarized way that people get information about Washington. And then we've shined a spotlight on it, but with our own lens and we focus it in its special way.

PURDUM: Well first of all, I mean the media from the French Revolution on, the media thrives on conflict. And that's why we say "man bites dog," and not "dog bites man." So that's, that's a given. But it's the intensity-

TODD: Wait a minute, breaking news. Another plane has landed safely at National Airport. That is correct. Another - right, we never break in for that. Yeah.

MARTIN: One hundred today now...

PURDUM: You scared me for one second. I thought that's going on here?

TODD: No, no but that's my point. We don't break in for that.

PURDUM: And we don't say Washingtonians got up and had their coffee and went to school and...

TODD: Right.

PURDUM: But, but what has happened to the frequency, the velocity of it, has so increased, that even 15 years ago when I covered the White House for the New York Times, we like to say we had a 24/7 media, we really did not. We had CNN, which every 22 minutes kind of had the world headlines. But it wasn't that some blogger sitting in a house some place, could cause a story that would make the White House reacted at midnight. That just didn't exist.

MARTIN: But it's also, it's also the break down in not just Washington media but in regional newspapers. Last August, a year ago, I was down in Florida, the panhandle, going to Allen Boyd town hall meetings. The folks at those town hall meetings - Chuck, they, they were not reading the Pensacola News Journal, they were not reading the Tallahassee Democrat, they were listening to Rush Limbaugh, they were reading Drudge, and they were watching-

TODD: Local news has gone national.

MARTIN: -and they were watching Fox News. And that's where they got their information entirely!

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.