Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.
For Greenwald, media reverence for Rove is outdated because Rove didn't prove to be so savvy after all. Why would anyone consider Rove to be very savvy considering the disastrous way that Rove's initiatives on the war, social security privatization, and immigration have worked out for Bush administration? Why would media stars like Gloria Borger and David Broder still view Rove as the ultimate authority on practical politics given that Rove's client George Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents in American history and the Republican Party is dispirited, demoralized, and worried about a major defeat in 2008?
Part of the answer is simple. Rove returns the phone calls of people like Broder and Borger and feeds them little nuggets of information they can use in their columns and reports. Rove has an encyclopedic knowledge of red-state places like Texas and Alabama that media members are ignorant about and he is more than willing to share that information. "For our pundit class, Karl Rove is the North Star of what they do -- he provides their instructions, their leaks, their scoops, their access . . ." Partly because he helps them with their work in this way, media people think of Rove as a good guy who helps them get their jobs done. Like most people, media people appreciate this kind of thing.
Hillary media people should take note.
As Rosen claims, media people like and identify with Rove's political shrewdness. But Rove is not just shrewd, he is a repulsive person who has a fantastic amount of energy and enormous talent for exploiting people's weaknesses and prejudices. The Beltway media don't adore Rove just because he's smart and successful. James Carville and Mary Matalin are both smart and successful but nobody adores either one of them. The media adores Rove because they are tremendously fascinated by the Rasputin-like repulsiveness that inhabits everything Rove does. In fact, Borger and other Beltway media types have been so fascinated by Rove that they've decided to represent the full range of Rove's political immorality as a kind of innocence and save their contempt for Rove's critics rather than Rove himself.
There is no doubt that Rove is repulsive. From his earliest days as a campaign consultant, Rove campaigns have been dominated by vicious and dishonest attack ads, playing up the bigotries that potential Republican voters have about gays and blacks whispering campaigns about opponents, and phony prosecutions for voter fraud. According to a 2004 Atlantic article, Rove's approach is to be so brazenly unethical that both the media and opponents are left confused and unsure how to respond. Rove's mendaciousness has been so pervasive that it's difficult to identify any particular manuever as "the quintessential Rove." However, I'll mention two examples--Rove's successful effort to whip up anti-gay sentiment during the 2004 presidential campaign and his equally successful whispering campaign about John McCain's sanity during the 2000 South Carolina primary.
For the political media, Rove's combination of smarts, success, and repulsiveness is irresistible. It's an odd symbiosis. From the media's perspective, the unethical repulsiveness of someone like Rove makes his smarts and success particularly compelling. At the same time, the fact that Rove has been successful on a large scale provides the media with a post hoc justification for Rove's repulsiveness and in fact transforms it into a form of grand beauty and innocence. For the media, Rove's successes from 2000-2004 not only made him smarter, they made him more attractive and even more innocent than his critics.
Ironically enough, Karl Rove remained a media icon even as he was becoming an albatross around the necks of the Republican Party. The media might not notice it, but that wasn't the case with Congressional Republicans.
been such disastrous political mistakes that Greenwald wonders how anyone could consider Rove to be particularly savvy at this date.