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Does D.C. Culture Change With the Party in Power?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Their party platforms place them worlds apart, but whether Democrats or Republicans rule the roost in D.C., the media and culture atmosphere in the district has remained largely the same over the past several years.

Betsy Rothstein of Fishbowl DC, a site that covers both D.C. politicians and the journalists who plague them, dispelled the notion that the city's social scene becomes livelier depending on which party is in power (at least in recent years).

That doesn't mean, however, that it doesn't get short-term boosts. For example, Rothstein said there was a jolt of excitement when Republicans took over the House in 2010, though the takeover failed to make any lasting effect.

The atmosphere on Capitol Hill itself became an interesting paradox after that Republican takeover. The GOP freshman class, full of political novices and surrounded by the aura of the tea party, was something of a breath of fresh air to the Beltway old-timers scene, said one Hill source. But the source added there's still a big country club vs. real world mentality struggle going on right now within the GOP, whose most high-profile representative right now in D.C. is Speaker of the House John Boehner.

But Boehner is also a figure Rothstein identifies as one of the funnier lawmakers on the Hill, sporting a kind of dry humor in his willingness to make fun of reporters—all done, of course, in good fun.

Rothstein said lawmakers probably get more leeway in how bold a figure they can cut based on the district they represent and cited the example of Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley, whose district includes Las Vegas.

"I think it really depends on where a lawmaker's from," Rothstein said.

Is there a party that makes life easier for journalists to get information? Rothstein indicated that may depend more on personality rather than party mantra. On 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, for example, she said the Bush administration had a reputation for being "very controlled," whereas reporters seemed to be able to get through more to Obama's initial White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.

"I don't know that I would say it's because Obama's a Democrat," Rothstein explained.

But if the politicians are interesting, the journalists who cover them are even more unique.

"From my perspective, and what I cover now, I see a lot of thin-skinned behavior from journalists, maybe double or triple the amount I saw covering lawmakers," Rothstein said.

While covering politicians may be intense, it's just as difficult keeping up with the journalists – "the most intense beat I've ever had even compared to covering members of Congress," Rothstein described it. The journalists in D.C. are, to quote a Hill source, on a "crusade." Reporters in the district give off the aura that they believe they're doing important work, and that they're on the Hill to make a difference.

But there's also a healthy dose of self-serving tied into this intensity. One Hill source called it the "keep your own jobs core" and talked about how a journalist sometimes will have to ask questions just to hold other journalists accountable. And "gotcha" journalism still plays a part in the D.C. scene, Rothstein said.

"Reporters, they want the Drudge hit," she said.

And D.C. as a whole, Rothstein agreed, simply takes itself too seriously.

"Well into the 90s," she responds when asked what percentage.

Democrat or Republican, some things never change.

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