For months I’ve tried to write about Ezra Klein, the founder of Vox, the nest of nerdy, privileged kids who think that politics and government is super neat. I’ve had a hard time publishing anything because Klein, a leading Hillary Clinton journalism surrogate, is at this point well beyond parody.
How can you possibly satire a dweeby hipster wannabe who wears a black T-shirt for a video segment that may as well have been a Hillary campaign ad? (Make sure to read viewer’s comments; they were not impressed.) Or who does a lengthy story on Hillary, featuring a whiffle ball interview with her, in which the stated goal is to answer a question that poor Ezra has been struggling with for the past eight years: “Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from the one I see on the campaign trail?”
The American people don’t like Hillary, to Klein’s befuddlement, but her friends and colleagues — “people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will” — think she’s brilliant, funny and just generally wonderful.
Klein has emerged as the Clinton campaign’s most reliable mouthpiece, as seen in a Podesta email released earlier this week. In the March 23, 2015 email, Clintonistas were wondering which journalist could most reliably be called upon to push out the campaign narrative and keep other reporters in line.
“Lloyd Grove used to be the person who would hold journalist [sic] accountable – who is that now and is there an opportunity for that in real time today?” Cheryl Mills, one of Hillary’s closest aides, asked.
For campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri, a name immediately sprang to mind. “I think that person, the degree to which they exist, is Ezra Klein,” she wrote. “And we can do it with him today.”
I’m still planning to write more about Klein in Washington Babylon’s Hack List 2016, to be published in December, but today I want to reveal what I found out about Klein’s speaking fees, and how his privileged background and high income might shape his campaign coverage and general reporting.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, there is a media elite, bound together by class and geography, that it is utterly clueless about its own biases and filters. Many journalists covering the presidential campaign are such pampered brats they don’t even recognize that for most Americans, the economy is in recession and people are terrified. They live in a bubble and have no clue what is happening outside of their own circle of smug, overpaid, soulless fellow hacks.
Klein is one of the more prominent members of this bratty group and is an especially troubling one because, bizarrely, he’s seen as a liberal or progressive. Conservative media sometimes even call him a “leftist,” which is a taint Klein has long tried to expunge. It stems from his days at The American Prospect, before he became determined to claw his way upward in journalism by heading towards the soulless center and not voicing any position that might be deemed remotely controversial. After leaving the Prospect he created “Wonk Blog” at the Washington Post and then founded Vox in 2014.
Ezra has now reached the ripe old age of 32 and he’s clearly making piles of dough. I’m not sure what he’s raking in at Vox, which is lavishly funded by venture capitalists and corporations like NBCUniversal, but he appears to be cleaning up on the speaker’s circuit — or journalistic buckraking, as the practice used to be known.
Using the alias of Emma Stoffels, Washington Babylon recently reached out to Klein’s speaking bureau, where his bio promises that he will use his “razor-sharp focus and wit” to give audiences “an unvarnished look at the intersection of today’s domestic and economic policy-making coupled with a political system that has major impacts from Wall Street to Main Street and around the world.”
His page says he can talk on about a score of topics, including Business Growth/Strategy/Trends, Corporate Culture, Creativity, Innovation, Jewish Interests, the Middle East and Social Media/New Media. It features glowing testimonials from Fordham University College Democrats and the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems.
Emma Stoffels, who was supposed to be with a University of Texas at Austin group called the Coalition of Millennials in Politics, said that she wanted Klein to be a guest speaker at an event — titled to be as bland and boring as possible — next spring: The 2017 Millennial Policy Summit: What Happens Now? “There will be panels on a range of topics, ranging from health care to climate change to foreign policy,” she added.
We assumed that a mediocre hack like Klein would go for somewhere between $7,500 and $15,000 a pop but when we selected that budget range we got a note back from one of his handlers: “Thank you for your inquiry and your interest in Ezra Klein. I’m afraid that his speaking fee does fall outside of the budget range you indicated you have available….As an additional thought, I suggest you reach out to your local universities, libraries or media networks to inquire about talent. They are great resources for finding expert speakers, authors or local anchor personalities for minimal to no costs.”
This was disappointing, so Emma wrote back that the Millennial group might be able to increase its budget to nab Klein. “The role of journalism in American politics is undeniable,” she wrote. “Klein has managed to find a unique edge…We could plan to allocate $20,000-25,000 for him to join the forum.”
Tragically, even that amount of money wouldn’t necessarily be enough to lure Ezra so Emma was passed along to another handler at the speakers’ bureau. This person said that Ezra’s fee would be $30,750, plus hotel accommodations, meals and incidentals. (Airfare and car service were generously included in the fee). “That said, he really does enjoy college programs and I think he would consider an invitation at $25,000,” this person wrote. “Also, if Ezra’s fee is prohibitive – I’m happy to help with other journalist available at a slightly lower price point.”
Think about these numbers for a second. Median household income in the United States — which peaked in the late-1990s — was $56,500 last year. So with a single university speaking gig, Klein apparently takes in more than half of what a typical family lives on for a full year. (One imagines he charges more for groups wanting his thought on business strategies and trends. I asked Klein for comment via his Twitter page and sent him my email, but didn’t hear back from him.)
Meanwhile, Klein thinks a $15 minimum wage is a terrible idea and so does Vox, in an article that Paste said took “pro-corporate fear-mongering mixed with a severe allergy to analytical rigor…to a new, unprecedented level.” This, ironically, was a rare time that Vox criticized its favorite candidate, for endorsing a $15 minimum wage.”
Klein and Vox’s economic prescriptions in general come straight out the playbook of the most pro-corporate wing of the Democratic Party. Think raising taxes on the rich to reduce inequality is a good idea? Think again. And again.
Back during the Watergate era, the Post’s then executive editor, Ben Bradlee, said that reporters had become more and more conservative as they got paid better. It’s hard to be conservative on $75 a week, but seventy-five grand, you begin to think of the kids and the bank account and the IRA and roll it over and all this stuff,” he wrote.
Nowadays most reporters don’t make a lot of money — and of course huge numbers have been fired during the past twenty years — but those at the top drive a lot of the journalism conversation. That’s because few espouse economic views that would trouble a typical billionaire or Fortune 500 CEO.
Ezra is a perfect example of this phenomenon. He was always a privileged elitist but back during his days at the Prospect, before he made so much money, Klein had more interesting views. Writing about messianic web enthusiasts he said:
Their intense enthusiasm for the web’s democratic properties is really, by virtue of it being a computer-accessible medium that offers the greatest rewards to the earliest adopters, an intense enthusiasm for further channels through which educated white guys can get rich, grow famous, and enhance their speaking fees. They’re very interested in the expansion of opportunity for guys like them. Not so much in the crushingly hopeless existences of others.
Ezra, you’ve come a long way.