News & Politics

Axios Scolds “The Media” Again

Something called "the media" is "clueless" about America, writes a guy who owns a media company and a vacation home.

Axios CEO Jim VandeHei, President Roy Schwartz, and Executive Editor Mike Allen. Photograph by Dan Swartz.

Jim VandeHei, co-founder of the Arlington-based media company Axios on Friday offered some unsolicited tough love for something called “the media”:

The media remains fairly clueless about the America that exists outside of the big cities, where most political writers and editors live. The coverage missed badly the surge in Trump voters in places obvious (rural America) and less obvious (Hispanic-heavy border towns in Texas).

Admonitions like this come with some depressing frequency from VandeHei, going back to a godawful series of articles he and Axios co-founder Mike Allen wrote at Politico, notably one that scolded “the media”—by which they meant two East Coast newspapers—for how they played stories about President Obama and his then challenger Mitt Romney in their print editions. VandeHei and Allen called an article about Romney’s equestrian activities “more voyeuristic than relevant” and managed to overlook that their own East Coast publication had already published six items about it. (Politico later aggregated criticisms of the column in a separate blog post.)

VandeHei’s media criticism is typically so scattered that it’s difficult to focus on the worst part, but one frequent blind spot is that no facts can budge a guy who co-owns a media company in a large metropolitan area from the idea that large metropolitan areas and people who work at media companies aren’t representative of “Normal America.” In 2015 he wrote about the perspective he’d gained on this problem via his ownership of a vacation home in Maine, which led him, naturally, to the idea that billionaires Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, or Mike Bloomberg should run for President. This take was so bad it exasperated even the Bangor Daily News, whose editorial board felt the need to remind its part-time neighbor that “‘Normal America’ isn’t a small town, and it isn’t in Maine.

In 2018 VandeHei and Allen again took up arms against “the media” for its “Awful scandal porn” after a former Trump adviser melted down on TV. “This is one of the reasons America hates the media,” they wrote. “Our entire industry lit itself on fire because a troubled Trump hanger-on made an ass of himself — live.” They did not linger on the fact that Axios had already covered the interview five different ways.

As an East Coast elite who has a lot of work to do before 5 PM, when I will be furloughed yet again this year, I don’t have time to disprove all the examples of “the media” covering exactly what VandeHei says “the media” didn’t cover in the runup to this year’s presidential election, so let’s zoom in quickly on the claim that “the media” has “missed badly the surge in Trump voters in places obvious (rural America) and less obvious (Hispanic-heavy border towns in Texas).”

For VandeHei the term “the media” includes big East Coast news organizations when they cover something he thinks is unimportant, but it somehow does not include the same news organizations when they cover something he thinks is important. Before the election, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico, and the Atlantic warned political observers that Latino voters represent a spectrum of identities and experiences and can confound easy categorization. Looking for a news organization that lumped those voters together in a less nuanced way? Ahem.

Correction: This post originally referred to Mark Zuckerman, who covers the Nationals for MASN, as a billionaire. I have no knowledge of Zuckerman’s finances; I meant to type “Mark Zuckerberg.”

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.