Episode 15, with guests Mark Leibovich of The New York Times, Mike Allen of POLITICO and Geoff Morrell of The Pentagon

Mark Leibovich, Mike Allen and Geoff Morrell are our interview guests this week
Show produced by Katherine Caperton
Original Air Date: June 18, 2011 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124.  Click above to listen.

Jules Verne wrote Around The World In 80 Days in 1873, with an itinerary that brought Phileas Fogg from London to Suez to Bombay to Calcutta to Hong Kong to Yokohama to San Francisco to New York to London.


Mike Allen, in his dispatches for POLITICO and his daily “Playbook,” wrote Around The World In 11 Days in June, 2011.  His itinerary was Washington to Hawaii to Singapore to Afghanistan to Belgium and back to Washington again.  He wrote it in the company of a Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, and his Press Secretary, Geoff Morrell (along with a traveling press corps and large crew of the E-4B National Emergency Airborne Command Post (or “Doomsday Plane”).  Allen’s quest represented only the final leg of Secretary Gates’s 664,150 miles flown during this chapter of is remarkable career of public service.


Department of Defense photo by Cherie Cullen

We’ve always seen coverage — in newspapers, on the evening news and in photojournalism — of Secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury as they represent the United States in their

Department of Defense photo by Cherie Cullen

travels overseas.  But unique is the perspective the reader gets when watching this unique trip unfold through Mike Allen’s eyes.  Not a regular member of the Pentagon press press corps, Mike saw — and felt compelled to report on — the behind-the-scenes nuance and daily operational routine of more than 100,000 U.S. men and women in uniform currently deployed in Afganistan.

Mike filed numerous stories, like this one, this one, and this one, while traveling in Secretary Gates’s entourage, and still managed to publish “Playbook” every day while on assignment.  Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon Press Secretary, was responsible for the media accompanying the trip, and his office also maintain’s this voluminous Website detailing this trip and all of Secretary Gates’s travels.

Mike and Geoff — one a reporter and the other a government official — join us for an extraordinary conversation about how Polioptics works a the cabinet level.

* * *

In this episode, we also talk at length with Mark Leibovich, ace reporter for the New York Times.  Leibo, as he’s known, is currently on book leave from the newspaper, working on a highly anticipated tome about the modern culture of Washington, a culture in which Mike Allen and this 24/7 style of reporting reigns supreme.  In fact, Leibo just won the “Ellie,” or National Magazine Award, for this 8,000-word profile of Allen — “The Man The White House Wakes Up To” — in the New York Times Magazine. It’s just part of the remarkable oeuvre that Leibo has established at the Times that can be accessed here.

Mark Leibovich of the New York Times

Full disclosure: Leibo and I aren’t just friends, we’ve been pals since we were toddlers growing up on the not-so-hardscrapple streets of Waban, Massachusetts.  So I go a bit farther back with Leibo’s career in journalism, in fact, to when he was a columnist for Denebola, the Newton South High School newspaper, during the early 1980’s. Since then, I’ve watched every step of his career evolve, from the Boston Phoenix to the San Jose Mercury News to the Washington Post and, finally, to the Times.  While Leibo’s next book is likely to become an instant best seller, his first one, The New Imperialists, wasn’t, but you can still get copies of it from a few online retailers.  With its profiles of the likes of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs, among others, Leibo proves himself prescient at divining which stories would have staying power.

Some of the classic Leibo pieces we talk about in our conversation: his classic Washington Post profile of John and Theresa Heinz Kerry that defined the candidate before the 2004 campaign really began; his series on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton before the 2008 campaign got fully underway; a piece on dethroned lobbyist Jack Abramoff after he got out of jail, found by Leibovich tossing pizzas at Tov Pizzeria in Baltimore, Maryland; and the quintessential ‘rise and fall’ tale from his business writing days on Michael Saylor of MicroStrategy.


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