It’s Not Easy Being a Rich and Famous Journalist

By Jack Limpert

If you liked Mark Leibovich’s book This Town for its sharp scalpel and the author’s well-calibrated B.S. detector, you’ll love this Huffington Post piece by Jason Linkins about a desperate media critic and the aggrieved wife of a famous editor.

Linkins, based in Washington, takes Leibovich’s gently cynical, often funny view of high-profile Washington and gets tough, calling the nation’s capital the home of a lot of “petty, resentful, emotionally-stunted, sociopathic, social-climbing, status-obsessed basketcases.”

It started in the early 1970s when Washington became a magnet for lobbyists and corporate money: All these new government regulations! We need someone in Washington!

As the federal budget grew, the amount of money flowing through the city became kind of crazy. What was mostly a middle-class city became a place where big money could be made—and fast. Home prices skyrocketed (the ordinary three-bedroom home I bought in 1975 for $72,000 was worth about $1 million by the year 2000). Well-placed congressional aides or staffers at regulatory agencies could easily triple their salaries by going corporate. And journalists discovered that being a good reporter or good writer didn’t mean real money—you needed TV exposure, speaking fees.

Howie Kurtz is a pretty good embodiment of today’s high-profile Washington journalist: He went from being a really good Washington Post media reporter to a high-salaried TV personality. As Linkins points out, once you get used to the big money you’ll do some strange, maybe awful things to keep it coming.

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