Let's talk about that weird Politico piece about Kamala Harris's headphones
The widely mocked article illustrates the trend of nothingburgers being twisted into controversies.
I wrote yesterday about how coverage of the Biden administration has been disproportionately negative in recent months. A piece that dropped hours later provides a perfect illustration of how White House reporting is struggling to find its way in our post-Trump presidency world.
Even as major outlets are criticized for their recent coverage of Vice President Kamala Harris — including a string of gossipy stories about the work environment in her office and hit pieces about her spending $500 on cookware during a recent diplomatic trip to Paris — Politico Playbook decided to publish an exceedingly strange piece about her choice of headphones.
No news day is that slow — especially considering the half-baked nature of the article.
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The headline of the piece, which ran in Politico’s West Wing Playbook newsletter, is “Kamala Harris is Bluetooth-phobic.” It details how Harris views Bluetooth devices as a security risk, so she “insists on using wired headphones, three former campaign aides told West Wing Playbook.”
Here’s the thing — Bluetooth devices really are a security risk. You can learn all about this from a few minutes of Googling. And while those risks might be negligible for private citizens like me who use AirPods mostly to listen to music or podcasts, they obviously need to be taken seriously by the vice president of the United States.
But instead of doing some basic background research or even talking to experts, the Playbook piece not only frames Harris’s headphones choice as a both sides issue — “some describing it as prudent and others suggesting it’s a bit paranoid,” it reads — but it suggests she’s doing something wrong by making the responsible choice.
“But still, should someone who travels with the nuclear football be spending time untangling her headphone wires? The American people deserve answers!” it says.
Some defended Politico on the grounds that tech security has become a significant issue in each of the last two presidential administrations. That’d be a fair point if the article got into any of that context. But it doesn’t. Instead, it cites Harris instructing her staff not to allow people to wait for meetings alone in her office when she’s not there (a perfectly normal thing to do for a public official) as an example of paranoia.
If this all seems silly to you, Biden administration officials are in agreement. On Twitter, Symone Sanders, the outgoing top spokesperson for the vice president, responded to Politico reporter Alex Thompson’s tweet noting her office didn’t respond to a request for comment by pointing out they had better things to do.
Meanwhile, Politico editor Sam Stein tried to turn the tables on people dunking on the article, tweeting, “folks, it’s ok to just … loosen up and not freak out.”
And you know what? He’s not wrong. It’s not the end of the world. We’re talking about a poor piece of journalism, but ultimately it’s a throwaway item in a newsletter whose readership is overwhelming made up of coastal elites who already have informed, firm opinions about the vice president. It’s okay to read it, maybe shake your head once or twice, and move on with your life.
But coming on the heels of a newscycle where Politico’s coverage of the Biden White House has been heavily scrutinized (including by me), the tone deaf piece felt like a middle finger to critics. Perhaps more importantly, it also illustrated how VP Harris too often is damned if she does, and damned if she doesn’t.
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After all, when you boil it down, the real story Politico was trying to tell is that Harris is making a responsible choice. That’s obviously a nothingburger, but instead of just passing on it or telling a less sexy story about why Harris uses wired headphones, they tried to twist it into something controversial. And sadly, twisting nothingburgers into fake controversies has become a noticeable trend in the coverage of America’s first woman vice president.
One of my tweets was featured on Fox News
In other news, a tweet I posted about the death of World War 2 hero, longtime Senator, and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole was featured on Fox News on Monday.
I posted two tweets on Sunday about Dole’s death — one sharing a news report highlighting his military service and noting that the so-called “Greatest Generation” of World War 2 veterans is leaving us, and another commenting that a significant part of his legacy was his support for Trump, which extended past Trump’s incitement of the insurrection. (Though, in fairness, Dole expressed ambivalence about Trump in his final months, saying “I’m a Trumper … I'm sort of Trumped out, though” and noting that Trump’s claims of election fraud were false. But he also said he wished Trump won the 2020 election.)
Predictably, Harris Faulkner’s Fox News show showcased my second tweet as an example of “left-wing media … disrespecting Bob Dole.”
Here’s a screengrab via Daily Beast media reporter Justin Baragona:
To be clear, I meant no disrespect to Dole. His service to the country both in the military and as an elected official is by no means negated by his support for Trump. But, despite the backlash, I think the fact Dole was the only living former Republican nominee for president to endorse Trump in 2016 (and still wouldn’t denounce him even after a coup attempt) is an inescapable part of his legacy.
We all live complicated lives. And so ahead of Dole lying in state in the Capitol on Thursday, I’ll take this opportunity to highlight the farewell column Dole wrote earlier this year — one that was just published by media outlets on Monday.
I do have hope that our country will rediscover its greatness. Perhaps it is the optimism that comes from spending 98 years as a proud American. I grew up in what others have called the Greatest Generation. Together, we put an end to Nazi tyranny. Our nation confronted Jim Crow, split the atom, eliminated the anguish of polio, planted our flag on the moon and tore down the Berlin Wall. Rising above partisanship, we made historic gains in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. To make a more perfect union, we swung open the doors of economic opportunity for women who were ready to rise to their fullest potential and leave shattered glass ceilings behind them.
After sharing these thoughts, I plan to once again return to my seat to sit back and watch. Though this time, I will count on tomorrow’s leaders to stand up for what is right for America. With full optimism and faith in our nation’s humanity, I know they will.
Here’s to hoping Dole’s optimism isn’t misplaced.