NEW YORK –- Politico editor-in-chief John Harris and chief executive Jim VandeHei are expected to visit The Washington Post on Wednesday to discuss the paper's recent scrutiny of chief White House correspondent Mike Allen and his influential Playbook newsletter, according to a source familiar with the meeting who is not authorized to discuss it.
The Politico higher-ups are scheduled to sit down with both editorial page editor Fred Hiatt and media critic Erik Wemple, who has aggressively covered Allen and recently suggested the Politico star writer rewards Playbook advertisers with favorable coverage. After digging through Playbook's archives, Wemple concluded in November that "the special interests that pay for slots in the newsletter get adoring coverage elsewhere in the playing field of Playbook."
A few years ago, it was Politico's Allen breaking the "Salon-gate" scandal at the Post; he reported the paper planned to allow lobbyists and executives the opportunity to pay for off-the-record access to Post editors and reporters at exclusive salons. Now it's the Post, through Wemple, that's asking Politico questions about blurring the line between editorial and business interests.
So far, Allen has been silent on the matter. He didn't answer Wemple's queries prior to publication or at a public event after the story ran on Nov. 20.
But in a Tuesday email to HuffPost, Allen pushed back against Wemple's critique.
"Erik’s posts about Playbook are false and insulting," Allen wrote. "I haven't responded because his obsessive, anti-Playbook agenda has been obvious for some time.
"I have based my career on honesty and trust," Allen continued. "Over the past seven years, there have been more than 8 million words of Playbooks, including hundreds of announcements from every group under the sun. You could cherry-pick items to make any case you wanted: that I’m a conservative hack, or a liberal tool, or a bad writer or a good guy. I write Playbook 365 days a year because I enjoy it, and greatly respect the readership it has attracted. I make my decisions based on a single consideration: whether the item would serve the audience."
While VandeHei and Harris haven't engaged Wemple's line of questioning about Playbook's sponsors, each has criticized his coverage in recent interviews.
During an December appearance on WNYC, VandeHei said he thought Wemple's "piece was nonsense, which is why we didn't play ball with him on it." On Fox News, Harris described Wemple's report as "more of a suggestion, insinuation, innuendo in a really unfair way." Playbook, Harris said, is "totally transparent."
No one scheduled to attend Wednesday's meeting would discuss it when reached by The Huffington Post.
"We have been talking about talking and the last time I sent them an inquiry, they replied with something on the record," Wemple said of his dealings with Politico. "I'm optimistic about the way things are going."
Hiatt, who manages Wemple on the opinion side of the paper, said in an email he'd "be unlikely to comment" on a private meeting.
"Generally my feeling is people ought to be able to complain about stuff that we write, and that whether to go public with their complaints should be up to them, not up to me," Hiatt said, adding that he is "a big fan of Erik Wemple's reporting and of his blog."
HuffPost made several attempts to reach Harris and VandeHei by phone and email. Neither provided comment.
HuffPost raised questions in 2012 about Allen's positive coverage of Campaign to Fix the Debt just days before the organization began sponsoring Playbook. A Politico spokesperson said at the time that Allen "has no role in who the sponsors are for Playbook."
Wemple's Nov. 20 post -- "Mike Allen, native advertising pioneer" -- generated much attention in media circles, but it wasn't the only time the Post writer has suggested Allen is too cozy with those he's covering in media and politics.
On Oct. 3, Wemple wrote of how Allen has plugged books by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, co-hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," a show where Allen appears regularly. "Two books, two 'Morning Joe' co-hosts, two acts of flackdom from Allen," Wemple wrote. "No surprise whatsoever."
The following day, Wemple questioned whether the Playbook model would work in New York, where Politico had acquired the local news site Capital New York. Wemple concluded that Playbook "is a native Washingtonian feast, one that runs on favor-trading, common obsessions and a small group of friends and quasi-enemies."
And after Allen helped land an exclusive interview with CNN chief Jeff Zucker for last month's re-launch of Capital New York, Wemple wrote that "CNN's workaholic PR operatives couldn't have fashioned the piece more favorably."
Hiatt, Wemple, Harris and VandeHei have all crossed paths professionally (and this reporter worked at Politico from November 2007 to March 2010).
Both Harris and VandeHei left the Post newsroom in November 2006 to launch Politico, and Wemple is very familiar with Politico's Rosslyn, Va., headquarters. Before joining the Post 2011, Wemple served as editor of TBD.com, a now-shuttered local news site launched by Politico owner Robert Allbritton.
This article has been updated with Allen's response to Wemple's critique.