ink-stained wretches

Politico’s Mike Allen: Hobo or Robot?

If you work in politics or in the political media, you may have woken up this morning and read the Playbook newsletter, in your e-mail or on the Politico website. And if you’re anybody else, you’ve probably never heard of it, in which case, you’re missing out on the most important thing anyone reads, ever, a.k.a., “an insider’s hodgepodge of predawn news, talking-point previews, scooplets, birthday greetings to people you’ve never heard of, random sightings (“spotted”) around town and inside jokes,” as Mark Leibovich puts it in an extensive New York Times Magazine profile. How do you even live not being a part of these inside jokes, or knowing that, for example, today is this guy’s birthday?

Apart from the undeniable value of such information, other parts of the newsletter tend to drive the daily news cycle, and among its devoted readers — and sources — are top White House advisers like Dan Pfeiffer and David Axelrod. If you want to learn about Playbook’s influence on Beltway insiders, we recommend checking out the Times Magazine piece itself.

But perhaps even more interesting to anyone not entirely excited by political-media navel-gazing is the article’s focus on the quirks of Playbook’s scribe, Mike Allen, who, it seems, shares few qualities with the human race but many with homeless people and robots. Please bear with us as we review the evidence:

A hyperactive former Eagle Scout, Allen will have been up for hours [by 4:20 a.m.], if he ever went to bed. Whether or not he did is one of the many little mysteries that surround him ….

Okay, so Allen gets very little, if any, sleep.

A corollary are “Mikey Sightings,” a bipartisan e-mail chain among prominent people who track Allen’s stutter-stepping whereabouts — his showing up out of nowhere, around corners, at odd hours, sometimes a few time zones away

He possesses the ability to teleport. So far, we’re looking at some kind of futuristic robot.

Allen — who is childless and owns no cars or real estate — perpetually picks up meal and beverage tabs for his friend-sources (the dominant hybrid around Mikey). He kisses women’s hands and thanks you so much for coming, even though the party is never at his home, which not even his closest friends have seen

Nobody has seen his house? A few points for hobo.

Allen also has a tendency to suddenly vanish. But then he will pop up on a TV screen a few minutes later….


People routinely wonder whether Allen actually lives somewhere besides the briefing rooms, newsrooms, campaign hotels or going-away dinners for Senator So-and-So’s press secretary that seem to be his perpetual regimen.


And they wonder, “Does Mikey ever sleep?” The query tires him. He claims he tries to sleep six hours a night, which seems unrealistic for someone who says he tries to wake at 2 or 3 a.m. to start Playbook after evenings that can include multiple stops (and trails of midnight-stamped e-mail) … I asked Allen if he slept during the day, and he said no


It is almost impossible to find anyone who has seen his home (a rented apartment, short walk to the office). “Never seen the apartment,” volunteered Robert L. Allbritton, Politico’s publisher, midinterview. “No man’s land.” When sharing a cab, Allen is said to insist that the other party be dropped off first. One friend describes driving Allen home and having him get out at a corner; in the rearview mirror, the friend saw him hail a cab and set off in another direction. I’ve heard more than one instance of people who sent holiday cards to Allen’s presumed address only to have them returned unopened. One former copy editor at Politico, Campbell Roth, happened to buy a Washington condominium a few years ago that Allen had just vacated. She told me the neighbors called the former tenant “brilliant but weird” and were “genuinely scared about some fire-code violation” based on the mountains of stuff inside.

Shady hobo who hoards garbage! Okay, this is too much for us. Hopefully someone will eventually figure out whether Allen is the nation’s first successful hobo-reporter, or the nation’s first high-tech robot-reporter. Or both? Mike Allen: Politico’s hobot.

Politico’s Mike Allen: Hobo or Robot?