Politico Reporter Avoided Embargoes on Joe Biden’s Late Show Appearance by Sitting in the Audience

As with any appearance by a high-ranking politician on a late-night talk show, Vice President Joe Biden‘s interview Thursday night on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert is plastering the internet today. But the content of Biden’s appearance—a raw, deeply emotional interview focusing on he’s coped with the death of his son, Beau—leaked more than four hours before the Late Show aired.

Biden’s and Stephen Colbert‘s conversation was supposed to be under wraps until 11:35 PM, when the show airs, in accordance with embargoes issued by CBS and the White House. New York Times reporter Michael D. Shear, who’s been doing pool coverage of Biden’s trip this week to New York, had a seat in the Ed Sullivan Theater and prepared a dispatch to send to the rest of the White House press corps at 11:35.

But Politico was up with a summary of Biden’s interview at 7:10 PM, featuring some newsy quotes from the vice president about his trepidation toward running for president one more time. A few minutes later, the White House lifted its embargo, forcing Shear to pound out his report to enable a raft of premature Late Show recaps.

If Shear was the pool reporter, though, how did Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere get the jump on Biden and Colbert? Shear filled in the White House press list Friday afternoon. Politico, it turns out, did an end run by sticking Dovere in the one part of the Ed Sullivan Theater not subject to news embargoes: the audience.

Dovere lined up on Broadway with the masses on Thursday afternoon and waited several hours to get into the theater, he tells Washingtonian in an email.

“I didn’t travel with the vice president and wasn’t in the vice president’s pool, so wasn’t bound by any embargo that applied to the pool,” he writes. “The screening is open to members of the public, who are free to discuss the taping after they leave. I waited in line with other audience members Thursday afternoon and was admitted on a stand-by ticket.”

Tickets to late-night talk shows are typically free, but they’re tough to come by, especially during a new host’s first week. The Late Show‘s website reads that Colbert is sold out through October, but there are always a few spares in case people who have made reservations don’t show. People who want to attend the Late Show are told to line up outside the 400-seat Ed Sullivan Theater by 3:15 PM.

That Dovere had a stand-by ticket suggests that it was more of a whim of an assignment than a drawn-out gambit developed when the first batch of Late Show tickets became available. Still, the ploy succeeded on several levels. Politico got a head start on the kind of television-clip driven story every political- and entertainment-news website covers, and proved that most embargoes are pointless.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.