Daniel Lippman will probably be awake at dawn this morning, but it won’t be to help to slip Politico Playbook into your inbox. After more than five years at the famous DC newsletter, Lippman will leave Playbook to concentrate on full-time reporting on the White House and Washington for Politico. Even with his old Playbook schedule—and his ability to attend seemingly every event of note in town—Lippman has managed to squeeze in lots of what his old boss Mike Allen called “talkers.” There was the article he and Ben Schreckinger wrote about the travails of young Trump supporters in Washington’s social scene. The story he wrote with Eliana Johnson about President Trump’s weird visit to Mount Vernon. His solo joint about Trump’s diplomatic hamfistedness, like how he called Nepal “nipple.” Though he’ll no longer share the extremely early shift with Playbook authors Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, Lippman will still curate the newsletter’s “Great Weekend Reads” feature. The Great Barrington, Massachusetts, native has given us so much to talk about that Washingtonian thought it only fair to relinquish a little of its own weekend time to ask Lippman about his big move.
Washingtonian: So tell me about your new beat, Daniel!
Daniel Lippman: I’m doing a lot of White House reporting on the Trump administration, but I’m now a full-time reporter, mostly focused on feature writing and investigative stories. And also a lot of personnel issues, because that has kind of become a specialty for me. And also just kind of the culture of Washington in the Trump years. I’m able to do critical stories of on the White House when merited, but not at the expense of being able to talk to a wide variety of White House officials, and I think they view me as fair. This just frees up my time to focus exclusively on original reporting. And so I’m very thankful to my editors, Carrie Budoff Brown, Paul Volpe, and Matt Kaminski, and other people in company leadership. Basically I’m graduating from Playbook after all these years.
A lot of your stories color in the picture.
One of the reasons I love my job is that our mission is to take readers where governments and powerful people don’t want people to see. And so it’s nice to be at a place that prioritizes investigative reporting but also scoops, which is the coin of the realm in Washington. And that’s what I spend all my time pursuing, and that means tons of meetings with sources and coffees and phone calls all the time.
What’s your theory of the case of covering Washington, the White House, this President, and figuring that what’s actually important?
I think my theory of the case is to develop as many sources as possible and to stay in touch with them as much as humanly possible about things both small and big and then and trying to learn from them about what’s happening that’s not being reported and trying to storify that. And that means cross-referencing stuff, because you need to make sure stuff is confirmed. Because there are a lot of rumors only flying around in Washington, and our job is to check stuff out and only publish stuff that’s ironclad. Often, personnel equals policy, and the people in the Trump administration, the senior leadership, these are people making decisions that are affecting policy and affecting American lives. And so the more we can understand about who they are and what they are doing behind the scenes in a fair way that gets everyone’s side, that hopefully keeps our readers interested and informs and enlightens our readership so that they can understand this remarkable moment in Washington.
That’s the trick, isn’t it—getting it ironclad? Because there’s really only one decision-maker who matters in that White House. You can often get stuff confirmed by a bunch of people but it will then turn out to be not true.
I think you have to do your best with the sources you get and make sure that they are as close to the decisionmaker as possible. Oftentimes what I’ve found is that when I ask my White House sources about stuff, I’m asking them stuff that they haven’t even heard. In other administrations, presumably everyone would be on the same page. With this White House it’s a little more tenuous. And I think the perfect example is the status of cabinet members. When the president says, “Oh yeah, we’ll have to look at that,” that’s often a sign that a cabinet member’s future is not secure.
So you do think that there is a point to covering people in this administration besides Trump.
Of course, because he’s not making all the decisions. Especially on policy that doesn’t rise to his level as too much, because he doesn’t get involved in every little thing. He’s not approving the White House tennis court.
Let’s talk about you for a minute. The fact that we’re talking on a weekend suggests that neither of us has this work-life thing down pat. What’s it going to mean for your schedule for you to not be doing Playbook anymore?
When I get a scoop on the weekend, I’m not going to wait until Monday to report it out. That’s not going to change. I may have more time to read books and to enjoy DC on the weekend, but this move will only encourage me to get as many scoops and write feature stories and Politico Magazine stories when I can. Playbook was something that I kind of fell into, but I have loved every minute of it.
I have to ask whether you’ll sleep more.
I imagine I’ll get more sleep now that I don’t have to wake up as early. I’m not going to call up sources at 4 AM and wake them up unless it’s like earth-shattering news that I’m chasing down.
I read that you got up at 3:30—is that right?
It varied. Every time I woke up I was excited to work on Playbook, and no matter what time that was.
Will you go out less, or will you maintain your busy social calendar?
I get a bunch of tips and story ideas and meet sources at different parties and dinners, and so it’ll only be in my interest to continue to go to stuff that’s interesting around DC. I don’t foresee cutting back and becoming a hermit.