The secret of Haley Barbour’s (media) success

THE SECRET OF HALEY BARBOUR’S (MEDIA) SUCCESS…. I’ve long wondered why Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) enjoys so much adulation from the D.C. media/political establishment. In general, he doesn’t really fit the bill — he’s a right-wing former corporate lobbyist with a background on racial issues that could generously be described as “awkward.”

But reporters just seem to love him. Lloyd Grove noted the other day that Barbour “enjoys the friendliest relations with the Washington media elite of any prospective candidate vying for the Republican nomination,” and sought to explain why. It appears to have something to do with Barbour giving the impression that “he actually relishes reporters’ company.”

That warm, fuzzy feeling is reciprocated — more often than not on a first-name basis.

“It’s not Haley’s politics, although his pragmatism so outweighs his partisanship, he looks like Gandhi in our current political atmosphere,” says Bloomberg News columnist and Daily Beast contributor Margaret Carlson, a doyenne of the Washington media-political complex. “He’s the Republican Ed Rendell — genuine, approachable, loves what he’s doing and makes you love it, and him.”

As a political reporter for The Washington Post back in the mid-1990s, I too fell under Barbour’s spell, growing to appreciate his apparent openness, tactical savvy, self-deprecating charm — and generous supply of Maker’s Mark in his handy RNC liquor cabinet.

Grove’s piece is fascinating, but it doesn’t exactly cast D.C. political reporters in the best light.

NBC News’ Chuck Todd, for example, praises Barbour’s style: “I think there’s definitely an old-schoolishness about him that Obama doesn’t have — maybe a bridge to the three-martini lunch, something from back in the good old days which reporters now know nothing about.” An unnamed veteran Washington political journalist told Grove that Barbour, gearing up for a presidential campaign, may face less heat for having been a corporate lobbyist because adoring reporters will be more inclined to give him a pass.

Barbour hasn’t even announced yet, but thanks to his D.C. background — which includes a stint as RNC chairman — he’s already charmed the media, at least in part because he’s offered journalists plenty of alcohol over the years.

For those concerned about a cliquish media establishment making things easier for its favorite politicians, this will likely set off alarm bells. And it should. It’s unfortunate when this media dynamic kicks in, but it’s worse when media professionals prove to be cheap dates.

As for whether Barbour can capitalize on this in a likely national campaign, the answer isn’t necessarily obvious. McCain was the media’s darling in 2000, but it wasn’t enough to get him the nomination. More than a decade later, the Republican base hates major news organizations even more, so Barbour’s cozy relationships with reporters may even backfire with primary voters.

Still, reporters’ fawning over the guy, whether it helps or not, should be unpleasant to watch.