Politico recently hired Timothy Noah to be the publication’s labor and employment editor. Noah is a former Slate and New Republic columnist known for being liberal. Of course, most reporters on the labor beat are pro-union, so you’re probably wondering what the news is here. Well, that would be Noah’s hiring, in turn, of Mike Elk, formerly of Huffington Post and In These Times, to help him cover the beat.
The Scrapbook hesitates to call Elk a reporter—he’s more of an activist who happens to call sources. In fact, a few years ago Elk lost his gig at the Huffington Post after lending his press credentials to a union activist. The activist then used Elk’s credentials to gain entry into a mortgage bankers’ conference and disrupt it. Earlier this year, Elk wrote a long, tortured item at Huffington Post, in which he explained that he’s evolved on the question of journalistic ethics—he now believes he should have some.
Elk describes his style of reporting as “sh—t-kicking” and says that he’s prone to outbursts. In fact, he’s made headlines for starting pointless feuds with other reporters. This is mostly because Elk feels inclined to defend his ex-partner Rania Khalek, who likes to spout off on social media about Jewish journalists supporting “Israel’s racist ideology” and circulate photos of herself flipping off a photo of Bibi Netanyahu alongside a Putin propagandist. Whenever these debates get too heated for Elk, he backs off by reminding everyone he has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s not nice to go after people with mental health issues. Then there was the time that Elk launched an Internet crowdfunding campaign to pay for his vacation, which caused much sighing and headshaking.
So that’s the baggage that comes with Mike Elk. But before he gets completely dismissed, it’s worth noting he’s not all bad. He’s likable on a personal level. And if you scrape away the unprofessionalism and ideological bias—admittedly a lot of spadework—you can learn a lot from Elk’s writing on labor issues. He comes from a union family in Pittsburgh and is, for better and for worse, all about solidarity. He spends a lot of time with union sources who might not trust other reporters. If he gets his issues under control and is given a firm editorial hand, there’s a possibility he could become a great labor reporter.
However, it’s open to question whether Noah is the man to rein in Elk’s poor instincts. On Twitter last week, Noah was asked what he was going to do to “ensure some balance of perspectives,” and Noah responded, “We’re going to do straight news right down the middle.” Three days later, Elk was on Twitter crowing about handing out Steve Early books to colleagues in the newsroom at Politico. Early is the Noam Chomsky-approved author of Save Our Unions: Dispatches From A Movement in Distress.
Hey, this is America. The Scrapbook believes in second chances. And fourth and fifth chances, if they’re sincere. Honestly, we’re hoping Noah and Elk surprise us.