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Talking Points Memo: How it began
October 7, 2008 7:13 AM   Subscribe

…if you are the single newspaper in San Francisco or Kansas City or St. Louis, you are just highly constrained about how rigorous you can be in the accuracy of your reporting. Because the whole model is: You are appealing to everybody. Because the whole model is: You are appealing to everybody. … That's why the existence of an independent media sector is so important.
Talking Points Memo is one of the more notable successes in independent journalism and using blogs as a format for journalism. It has broken at least a couple of stories that got picked up by the mainstream press: The Duke Cunningham bribery scandal, and the U.S. Attorneys firing scandal. It's grown from being a one-man shop in 2000 to a staff of ten today. Josh Marshall talks about how it came to be.
posted by adamrice (51 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like TPM. It has an obvious democratic lean, but it's not as shrill as Huffington.
posted by milarepa at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2008


I've never looked at it - I assumed, judging by the name, that it's a Bill O'Reilly thing. That'll teach me to judge books by their covers.
posted by jbickers at 7:49 AM on October 7, 2008


The Duke Cunningham scandal was uncovered by reporters at the San Diego Union Tribune. Still rolling up guilty pleas on that particular nest of crooks, including a man who was the No. 3 guy at the CIA.

Full marks for the U.S. Attorneys scandal, though - that was all TPM, which includes its readers. Marshall credits tips from readers with helping TPM realize what was going on.

Perhaps TPM will be the model for much of the surviving news industry, after it bottoms out. The future, it seems, includes reporters.

Compressed paper pulp, not so much.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


TPM is my only must read. Josh Marshall is the freshest and best thing to come out of the political internet boom. More important, he's become a media tastemaker--his impressions of the political scene often become key elements of the media's take on things.

Mixing reporting with an editorial point of view he refuses to hide, he's become a focal point for the american political scene.

The moment I knew he had arrived was when, during the elections of 2006, the Republican house leadership allowed cameras into a key strategy meeting. In that photo, a Republican aide was obviously reading TPM.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


sacre_bleu—thanks for the correction. TPM has been all over the Dukester story, and I incorrectly got the impression they broke it.
posted by adamrice at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2008


No prob. I have loved Josh Marshall's even-keeled observations since it was just him in Washington.

If I was a young reporter today I would beat a path to his door.
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:04 AM on October 7, 2008


TPM is great, and I appreciate the link to the story of how it got started and grew—thanks!
posted by languagehat at 8:05 AM on October 7, 2008


They have also done activism, leading many left-leaning American blogs during the social security privatization debate a few years ago.
posted by Pants! at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2008


It's worth noting that he is an old schoolmate of Metafilter's own John Scalzi. I'm too lazy to look for it, but there is a picture of them together as sophmores(I think) in high school.

TPM is an excellent source of good political reporting, and I am pleased that JMM has had the success he has.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2008


TPM is my only must read. Also Wonkette, Daily Kos, FiveThirtyEight, Andrew Sullivan, Huffington and Think Progress. Oh god help this election will destroy me
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:39 AM on October 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


Count me as another fan. TPM is my number one source for political news. Josh Marshall is one of my idols, and I'm not even in the news business. He's an excellent example of the amazing difference a single motivated individual can make. I'd love to see organizations like his flourish while the traditional media withers.
posted by diogenes at 8:43 AM on October 7, 2008


EMRJKC94, I cycle between TPM and 538 (and occasionally Daily Kos and Sullivan) every 30 seconds or so. (I predict Nate from 538 as the breakout star of this election!)
posted by mothershock at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2008


I'd love to see fresh voices like Josh Marshal show up on TV talking head shows instead of the tired old hacks that usually do.
posted by octothorpe at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2008


Another one here for TPM's awesomeness. I am thankful that site exists, not just for providing me information, but for the service it provides to the entire political landscape. We sorely needed this site. I only wish there was a TPM TV on a main network so that more could be exposed to rational, logical, responsible investigative journalism.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:02 AM on October 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


While we're here, I'll mention that Obama currently leads in all 15 of 538's "Tipping Point States", and has an 88.5% chance of victory, plus the Cellphone Problem, minus the Amazing Disappearing Bradley Effect, plus the New Black Voter Contingent which means he stands a chance in Georgia and perhaps similar states.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:04 AM on October 7, 2008


TPM is probably the site most responsible for breaking down the barrier in my brain that protected it from obsessing over political sites. A good daily read indeed, if prone to wander, by Marshall's own admission, a little deep into the weeds on some stuff. That can be gratifying when it turns out to be something, but it can come off feeling a little like grudge-y goose-chasing regardless.

But that my criticism of the site comes down to hazy nitpicking is a testament to how solid it is, and how not-shitty it manages to be tonally on a consistent basis. The comment section on the site (and I like that they've really been working to build up the site from a user-functionality and -interaction perspective) isn't a quagmire either, which is impressive. It's not always steller either, but it's a start.
posted by cortex at 9:05 AM on October 7, 2008


I enjoy perusing their comments to attempt to keep track of their in-thread memes, and how certain regulars have axes to grind with certain posters (i.e. Greg, etc). Really a top notch site and definitely in my daily (hourly?) must read whenever political waters are choppy.
posted by cavalier at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2008


THIS IS GREAT NEWS!!!!!! FOR TPM!
posted by cavalier at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


I love TalkingPointsMemo, but I hafta say, Metafilter's Own goodnewsfortheinsane has the totally awesome Electicker2008, which, as a single-point aggregator of breaking news, polls, left and right wing narratives and everythign else, simply can't be beat. TPM is regularly linked from there, of course.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


At the time I was the Washington editor of The American Prospect.

In short, he'd already made a name for himself in traditional East Coast-based opinion journals. He'd written for The New Republic, the Atlantic, et. al. So he's new media coming out of old media. I wouldn't say that proves that Internet media has come into its own. I don't mean to be disparaging. It's a great site. I read it practically every day. But it wouldn't be the success that it has been without any old school ties.

(Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan isn't new media. He has a blog hosted by a magazine that was founded before the American Civil War. You can't get any older as far as old media in the US goes. Do you think anyone would care what Sullivan thinks if he wrote for someone else? Would he feel like he can demand that all presidential and vice presidential candidates make their health records public? Even if he's just some blogger?)
posted by raysmj at 9:19 AM on October 7, 2008


jbickers, you may also be surprised by Drudge Retort.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:31 AM on October 7, 2008


Metafilter: I enjoy perusing their comments to attempt to keep track of their in-thread memes
posted by anifinder at 9:32 AM on October 7, 2008


Reading EMJRKC's links above led me to this story, about how congressmen were told that a failed bailout bill would bring about martial law in the USA. To which I say... what?

Now I'm depressed and going back to bed. Thanks a lot, Kabbadi-man.
posted by rokusan at 10:18 AM on October 7, 2008


I've got no major issues with this site, but I just can't handle the current anti-objective stance of media outlets from both directions and at every level.

Mashall says in that article:
The mainstream media consistently and, as part of the ethos, prioritizes balance over accuracy in reporting the news -- particularly political and campaign news...As the concept of journalistic objectivity has evolved, it's become a corrupt model of journalism, rooted in the economic changes of business in journalism over the last half-century. ... the whole model is: You are appealing to everybody.

Then later: The more voices you have, the more takes on the news, you're just going to have a more vibrant and diverse news ecosystem - as opposed to having two or three gatekeepers that control the news.

I don't agree that there have to be "takes," just because there is no longer a single dominant version. Aren't there any voices on the web who claim to be hunting for truth without bias? It's disheartening for me as an independent. Maybe that's my problem, I should just pick sides and pick my sources and give up the illusion that balance is necessary for accuracy because politicians are universally full of shit.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2008


Potomac Avenue—In one sense, I think you're hinting at the crux of the problem. In another, you're missing Marshall's point.

Is it possible to truly be free of bias? Probably not. Is the pretense of being bias-free an adequate substitute? Definitely not. I'd much rather have a news source that is conscious of its bias and openly declares it than one that claims to be "fair and balanced."

If there are multiple takes, you can expose yourself to all of them. You can say "I know Marshall is sympathetic to Obama, so I'm not going to look to him first for a critique of Obama."

More importantly, you're missing Marshall's point that balance has become an end in itself, prioritized above accuracy. Paul Krugman satirized this approach by saying that if Bush came out as a flat-earther, the papers would run a story headlined "Shape of Earth: Views Differ."
posted by adamrice at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2008


I liked his site, but Josh Marshall was vehemently opposed to Howard Dean's takeover of the Democratic Party (he was for Simon Rosenberg.)

In revisionist fashion he has since deleted all the negative things he said regarding Howard Dean, and I've since not read his site.
posted by plexi at 12:03 PM on October 7, 2008


adamrice: I am missing that point, it's true. His argument is historically minded and mine is idealistic. The only place there's every been real objectivity is on the stages of stand-up comedy.

True balance is going after both parties when they speak that-which-is-not. When you officially swear off one party by declaring your loyalty haven't you given up your right to report anything without your motives being questioned?

It's one thing to not pretend to be objective and another to declare that you aren't going to try. It's fine for some guy with a blog to be prejudiced, I guess, but personally I'd really like to read someone who sees their life's work to be looking for truth, not just exposing the lies of his opposition.

So my disagreement is that, being very unhip, I would like a news sources that declares itself "fair and balanced" and nobody snickers, at least not loudly. When is John Stewart going to stop farting around and create a media conglomerate?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:14 PM on October 7, 2008


plexi: That's a shame, both that he felt the need to do that, and that his actions caused you to abandon the site. In all fairness, methinks the quality of TPM outweighs an isolated bad judgement call. It's not all black and white. =D
posted by lazaruslong at 12:26 PM on October 7, 2008


Love TPM, thanks for the post.

Another must-read: Digby's Hullabaloo - all the posters there are good, but watch in particular for digby's byline - she produces some of the best liberal writing on the web, imo.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:27 PM on October 7, 2008


Potomac: Marshall is quick to report Obama news that may disappoint liberals as well. Some examples I recall are things like the FISA cave in and the off shore drilling cave in. If it seems like most of the negative press is about McCain, I would argue that's a result of McCain sucking, not Marshall.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:28 PM on October 7, 2008


Josh Marshall was vehemently opposed to Howard Dean's takeover of the Democratic Party (he was for Simon Rosenberg.)

In revisionist fashion he has since deleted all the negative things he said regarding Howard Dean


Cite please?
posted by languagehat at 12:47 PM on October 7, 2008


I've been following TPM for a long time, and I couldn't be happier that the crew is finally recognized. If I were fresh out of journalism school, I would beg for a job there.
posted by dejah420 at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2008


rokusan said: Reading EMJRKC's links above led me to this story, about how congressmen were told that a failed bailout bill would bring about martial law in the USA. To which I say... what?

In this instance, the Congresscritter was confused. Pelosi said she was going to use the Congressional "Martial Law Rule". This rule is used fairly regularly, and is used to allow members to vote to suspend the regular rules so that legislation can be adopted more quickly than standard rules allow.

Linguistically, it's obviously a problematic name, in that the rule has NOTHING to do with imposing a military martial law on the country or citizens.

In parliamentary governments like Canada and the United Kingdom, similar rules exist and are called “cloture”, which is a parliamentary procedure by which the government party can stop debate and proceed with an up or down vote on bills.

Nothing sinister there...ya know, other than giving the entire treasury to the Rovians. But, outside of that...the Martial Law Rule is simply a procedural process.
posted by dejah420 at 1:07 PM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan isn't new media. He has a blog hosted by a magazine that was founded before the American Civil War. You can't get any older as far as old media in the US goes. Do you think anyone would care what Sullivan thinks if he wrote for someone else?

Sullivan was one of the first bloggers to be wholly self-supporting -- one bandwidth fundraiser brought in over $100,000. The Atlantic has only hosted him since last year -- and by all accounts it has been a traffic draw, not the other way around.

I know what you're trying to do here, ray, but Sullivan has been a major name in journalism for a long time now (you may recall his long association with The New Republic, where he was its youngest-ever supervising editor). People obviously cared what Sullivan had to say well before he moved to The Atlantic. I think Sullivan and Marshall are similar in many respects, in that they began their careers steeped in old media, but both found independence and an enthusiastic audience in new media -- and conversely, both helped give new media credibility.
posted by dhartung at 2:39 PM on October 7, 2008


Sullivan began his career with The New Republic.

Anyway, I'm only trying to say that the "One individual can make a difference" thing can only take you so far. Yes, they had to take some initiative. But it's not as if any of us could just start one of these sites without having already developed good sources and ties to the worlds of policy/government and politics. These are easily formed and made by reporters working for policy and opinion journals. TPM trained reporters will undoubtedly start opinion and policy and politics reportage sites of their own. But if you put a network graph together of these future sites you'd still trace them back to older, traditional media. It's the same thing in countless ways, only on the Internet and more in brief, blog format (although I expect to see longer articles as time goes by). Marshall was smart to get in on the action early undoubtedly, but the idea that just any blogger could pull this off is wrong.
posted by raysmj at 3:11 PM on October 7, 2008


dhartung: On the other hand, I think it would be highly possible for a blogger without sources and connections to a broad swath of DC's political and policy communities to pull of a site that's more narrowly tailored, that's maybe dedicated to following one area of policy or of one agency or institution, etc. TPM is a general, partisan politics and policy site, and that in itself links it to old media publications like The New Republic, however different the format.
posted by raysmj at 3:24 PM on October 7, 2008


I dunno about "independent." Opening TMP, the first words I saw described John McCain as "a lying sleaze-peddler and hypocrite." Name calling is the most tiresome thing about so-called "web journalism." That's not journalism, that's ideological blogging.
posted by Faze at 3:31 PM on October 7, 2008


John McCain's campaign has been full of lying, sleaze, and hypocrisy.

There. Better?
posted by lazaruslong at 3:51 PM on October 7, 2008


TPM is a compulsive daily read for me, and is invaluable for horse race and scandal blogging. Problems: their analysis of policy ranges from the cringe-inducing to emetic. You couldn't pay me enough to read TPMCafe (Todd Gitlin???). The comments are gross, but in the way that is sadly 100% typical of American political blog comments: paranoid, shallow, and unjustifiably smug about the unblemished nobility of The Party. My plan for TPM reform is to destroy every section except the main page and Election Central.

"I don't want to abolish TPM. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and read it in the bathtub." -Grover Norquist
posted by stammer at 4:40 PM on October 7, 2008


By the way - in case you couldn't tell, I think American liberal political blogs are 90%+ awful and useless and stupid. But the major ones, including TPM, should be seriously proud of the work they did raising awareness about Bush's social security scheme in 2005. Can you imagine what retirement accounts in the USA would look today like if that had passed? It was a great campaign and a foreshadowing of November 2006.
posted by stammer at 4:44 PM on October 7, 2008


Based on his teeth-grindingly awful motormouth appearances on Bill Maher's show (most recently a week ago or so), I wish Andrew Sullivan would just shut the fuck up. Seriously. Write all he wants, but just close his goddamn mouth. He is the mirror freaking image of the Bill O'Reillys of the Other Team, and he incites me to fury even when I do happen to agree with the points he's drooling all over in his unseemly insistence on trying to be the most Perspicacious Pundit in The Room through sheer volume of words. He is unfailing the most annoying, at least. Perhaps that's his media-manipulation schtick -- he's memorably unpleasant.

TPM I check out and enjoy around American election times. I recall seeing a doco somewhere a few years back on how there was an office and staff and everything, and realizing that weblogging, particularly political writing-on-the-web, had become just another business. It's uncontroversial these days, of course, but at the time, it disappointed me. On the other hand, as stammer notes, Sturgeon's Law applies, and TPM is one of the brighter spots.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:11 PM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not everyone is happy with Marshall.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2008


Not everyone is happy with Marshall.

Wow, that guy sounds completely insane. He not only spews hatred of Josh Marshall and virtually every other liberal commentator (while not expressing any actual disagreement with them), he says this about them: "And they gave you the dead of Iraq." Why not blame them for Vietnam, too, while you're at it?
posted by languagehat at 1:06 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


VIETNAM = INSIDE JOB

MARSHALL LIED, KURTZ DIED

VISIT TALKINGPOINTSMURDER.COM
posted by cortex at 1:26 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Apocalypse John
posted by kirkaracha at 2:02 PM on October 8, 2008


He is the mirror freaking image of the Bill O'Reillys of the Other Team

Perhaps that's because he was on the Other Team not all that long ago.
posted by raysmj at 4:28 PM on October 8, 2008


Here is a nice write up on Josh and TPM in the most recent Princeton Alumni Weekly.
posted by caddis at 1:02 PM on October 9, 2008


For what it's worth, I sent Josh an email with a link to this thread. His response was, "If I had an account I’d ask that one person where on earth they got the idea that anything, about Howard Dean or anything else has ever been deleted from the site. That’s complete nonsense".
posted by lazaruslong at 10:55 AM on October 13, 2008


Uh, Matt, could you pretty please give Josh an account?
posted by languagehat at 2:40 PM on October 13, 2008


Heh yeah, I'd donate an account to him if I thought he had time to participate over here. Revitalizing investigative journalism from a web perspective has got to be pretty busy though.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:45 PM on October 13, 2008


Yeah, I dropped him a line and a comp account if he wants it, but he's got to have about a million things going on right now. It'd be cool if he wants to drop by.
posted by cortex at 6:28 PM on October 13, 2008


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