BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is off this week. I’m Bob Garfield. Over the past 14 years, this program has traveled the world: Russia, China, Turkey, Japan, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Mexico – always exploring the nexus of media and society. But we missed one crucial destination -- maybe because it was hidden in plain view.
Flight Attendant:ladies and gentlemen its delta’s pleasure to welcome you to Washington DC
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, Washington, DC, which so resonates in the nation’s soul,yet seems so foreign to its people that candidates campaign against it
President Obama: We have to fundamentally change how Washington works.
BOB GARFIELD: On the other hand, who doesn’t love democracy and the Air & Space Museum? So here I am, at last, to explore the intersecting worlds of government, politics, commerce and, above all, the media we’ve spent years covering from a distance.
BOB GARFIELD: But starting with what. Congress? The White House? K. Street? You don’t get to be a foreign correspondent without knowing who to turn to for the lay of the land.
BOB GARFIELD:: I have traveled from beyond the beltway. What can you tell me of this city and its ways?
Driver: No comment sir. I don’t grant interviews.
BOB GARFIELD: My cab driver doesn’t grant interviews -- and file that under foreshadowing. As we shall see in a moment, reportorial access can be hard to come by in this city. Occupational hazard, but I have other sources. And I head for one of Washington’s most storied and essential institutions
BOB GARFIELD: It’s noon. As the peal of nearby bells wafts down M Street, the faithful begin filing in for the sacrament of lunch. This is the Palm: a cathedral of influence where power brokers cut deals and $50 steaks under the caricatures of Washington glitterati, living and dead. Barry Goldwater, Al Hunt, Chris Christie, Mark Russell, Henry Kissinger. And 1100 others.
Tommy Jacamo: Bob Woodward and Bernstein wrote All the Presidents men in the last booth in the back. They’d come in for lunch with all their little papers and their notes. That was a big story.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s the host, Tommy Jacamo, who has greeted the A list for 41 years. To be recognized by Tommy is to be a player. He reels off a list of Palm regulars.
Tommy Jacamo: James Carville and Mary Matelin when they’re in town. They live here, you know. They just love the place. Al From just left. Wolf Blitzer comes in all the time.
BOB GARFIELD: Today is Wolfless, but no matter. I’m here to meet my fixer, the local guy who can help me make connections, grease wheels and translate. He is Mark Liebovich, political correspondent for the New York Times Magazine and the author of the bestselling “This Town,” which is kind of like a Washington version Hollywood map of the stars. But not their homes, but where the bodies are buried.
Mark Liebovich: Detroit they make cars. Milwaukee they make beer. In Washington they theoretically make policy and laws -- except that they don’t.
BOB GARFIELD: What they do build here in DC is relationships...and not the Dr. Phil kind.
Mark Liebovich: It’s me as a lobbyist trying to nurture a relationship with you, a chief of staff of Congressman X or Senator Y. It’s me as a reporter being taken to lunch by some flack who is probably billing some company this because, ‘Hey, they have a relationship with Mark, the reporter,’ and that’s worth something. This is not making anything except noise and a lot of people very rich.
BOB GARFIELD: The lesson of Leibovich’s book is that ambitious people flock to Washington, ostensibly to conduct the people’s business, but soon focus on their own. Governance becomes an afterthought, or, worse, a goose farm for feathering their own nests. And the media are enablers -- often participants -- in the whole sordid economy. I immediately got into the swing of things.
Waiter: Off the menu we’ve got a rib eye blackened over caesar salad. and we have sauteed zucchini as a vegetable. 3,4,5 pound lobsters as well.
Bob Garfield: I gotta ask you, what’s the price of a 5 pound lobster.
Bob Garfield: $130?
Bob Garfield: Yeah. We’ll have the $130 lobster please.
BOB GARFIELD: You know what they say. “When in DuPont Circle….”
Mark Liebovich: You’re in a really good place now, Bob. People come in here’re gonna be impressed, especially when they see what we ordered.
BOB GARFIELD: In this hour, we’ll explore perception and reality, money and celebrity, and the evolving role of the media in the nation’s capital.