“I think my bureau will be almost as big as the Time magazine bureau,” David Corn was telling The Observer on Monday afternoon, a kid-in-a-candy-store excitement in his voice. That morning, Mr. Corn—whose name for years has been synonymous with the Washington coverage of the country’s most prominent magazine of the left, The Nation—had been named the D.C. bureau chief of Mother Jones, the San Francisco–based liberal bi-monthly.
He’s not wrong: Time currently has seven Washington reporters devoted to covering politics—the same number as Mother Jones, with the addition of Mr. Corn. The magazine’s aggressive Washington strategy, coming as it does at a time when most mainstream news outlets are cutting back, may be a sign that in this election season, the lefty media is generating all the heat.
In the past few months, Mother Jones has assembled a team of liberal-media name-checks like James Ridgeway, the longtime Washington correspondent of The Village Voice; Laura Rozen, a national-security writer for The American Prospect; and Stephanie Mencimer, a former editor of the Washington Monthly and National Magazine Award nominee.
But the bureau-chief job proved tougher to fill. Late last year, according to a source with knowledge of the exchange, Mother Jones offered a version of the job to Ken Silverstein of Harper’s, but the veteran D.C. investigative reporter declined. Another candidate, offered the job more recently, also passed it up, according to the same source. And according to a different source, Mother Jones also reached out unsuccessfully to Michael Tomasky, an alumnus of this newspaper and of New York magazine, who last year left his job as the editor in chief of The American Prospect to start up The Guardian’s American Web site, Guardian America. (Both Mr. Silverstein and Mr. Tomasky declined to comment).
But Mr. Corn—a well-sourced political reporter who last year teamed with Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff on a book, Hubris, that dug into the Bush administration’s efforts to sell the war in Iraq—was always an attractive target*. The magazine first approached him, he said, over the summer, and from then on were “persistent suitors” until the deal was finalized last week.
He said it was the prospect of a real Washington bureau that enticed him to leave The Nation, for whom he’d manned a somewhat lonely outpost in the capital for two decades. “The idea of being in charge of what is kind of a start-up within an existing entity, focused on reporting and news and analysis … was very appealing,” he said. “I’ve always wondered what could happen if there were five of me.”
“It just felt like kismet,” said Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffery about her conversations with Mr. Corn. “We approached things in the same way.”
Mr. Corn offers two other attributes that the magazine was looking for in its bureau chief: an ability to raise the magazine’s profile on the Washington talk-show circuit, and a facility with new media. He regularly appears as a liberal commentator on Fox News, and since 2003 has produced his own blog, a mix of original reporting and commentary that will become a part of Congressional Quarterly's soon-to-launch expanded site*. He has also blogged for The Huffington Post.
He’s already met with the bureau staff, though he won’t start work officially until next month. And one of the objectives he outlined was to position the bureau as a leader in the blogosphere.
“I think there is a quasi–neo-backlash to the blogosphere,” he said. “The blogosphere has been very good at presenting rants … and critiquing the media. But it hasn’t generated, too often, news.”
Using the Web, he said, “I can, on one level, compete with The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Internet has leveled the playing field in certain ways. So I’m hoping that Mother Jones can take advantage.”
And what about competing with his alma mater, The Nation?
On the day Mr. Corn’s departure was announced, another of The Nation’s Washington writers, Ari Berman, who authored a widely-praised May feature on Hillary Clinton’s campaign guru Mark Penn, relocated to The Nation’s New York headquarters, though he’ll continue to cover national politics.
Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said she plans to replace Mr. Corn, and, hopefully Mr. Berman, quickly. Those two hires, along with Washington correspondent John Nichols, who spends about two weeks a month in the capital, and veteran liberal columnist William Greider, will allow her to “bring these components together in a four-person bureau of strength.”
Don’t look for a Mother Jones–Nation death match, though. The rising tide of anti-Bush sentiment is lifting a lot of boats, and both magazines—along with other titles, including The American Prospect, the Washington Monthly and In These Times—are members of The Media Consortium, which was launched last year by liberal opinion magazines to combine resources where possible. The group hired a Washington reporter earlier this year.
* These sentences have been corrected from an earlier version.