Cirque du Washington: “This Town” author Mark Leibovich on what’s wrong with D.C.

Olivier Knox, Susan Saulny, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Cirque du Washington: “This Town” author Mark Leibovich on what’s wrong with D.C.

Top Line

If you had any dying embers of respect left for official Washington, author Mark Leibovich smothers them in his new book about all that’s wrong with “This Town.”

Leibovich casts some of Washington’s biggest stars, as well as its lesser-known insiders, as characters in his book, telling Top Line he wanted to “hold a mirror to a culture that is essentially in a gilded age.” The hard times of the last few years have barely dented the excesses of politicians, lobbyists, and the journalists who cover them.

“While people don't like Washington fundamentally, I don't think they have a full cinemagraphic appreciation for like the carnival that's broken out here in recent years, and that's what I tried to do,” says Leibovich, who is also the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine.

Borrowing a phrase from Sen. Tom Coburn, R – Okla., Leibovich says “the permanent feudal class of Washington,” comprising elected officials, former elected officials, lobbyists, and the news media, has undergone a transformation for the worse in recent years.

“What has really changed in the last decade and a half is the arrival of really, really big money,” Leibovich says. “This is now the wealthiest community in the United States; I mean, it's home to 7 of the top 10 wealthiest counties in the United States.”

Leibovich says the arrival of new media—epitomized in his book by Politico’s Mike Allen, who has become the unofficial town crier for Washington insiders with his daily tip sheet “Playbook”—has exacerbated the problem.

“New media… has really sort of exaggerated and accentuated the self absorption and the insularity that's always been a part of this city,” he says.

Though Leibovich is scathing in his critique of official Washington, he acknowledges that he himself is a D.C. insider.

“I'm very open in the book about the fact that I write this from the inside,” he says. “I've lived here for 17 years. I've covered politics willingly, and I hope to continue to, because I love politics.”

To find out more about Leibovich’s new book, including the blowback he says he’s getting from some of the book’s subjects, check out this episode of Top Line.

ABC's Eric Wray, Michael Conte, Betsy Klein, Brian Haefeli, and Barry Haywood contributed to this episode.