Matt Bai on his ‘House of Cards’ cameo
"I've got a good relationship with Matt. I'll call him."
That's a line from a fictional flack on "House of Cards," the second season of which media wonks from Midtown to the Beltway have no doubt been binge-wathcing since it landed in Netflix queues on Feb. 14.
The reporter he's referring to, however, is anything but fictional—the last name is Bai, formerly of The New York Times Magazine (at Yahoo News since November).
In the show, Bai is working on a Times Magazine piece that plays a not insignificant role in the hit political thriller's always scandalous story-line.
No spoilers here, but we will tell you that Bai appears in two separate scenes, one of which dramatizes a source interview.
"It was harder to play myself than I expected it was going to be," Bai told Capital.
The Times made a brief appearance in the first season when one of the main characters, Peter Russo, was interviewed for a story in the paper. Season one was also packed with nods to real-life media by way of made-up publications like The Washington Herald, a venerable daily that presumably serves as a stand-in for the Graham family's legendary broadsheet (now owned by Jeff Bezos), and Slugline, an irreverent website widely assumed to be based on POLITICO (which is owned by the same company as Capital).
Season two brings us The Wall Street Telegraph instead of The Journal; the New York Examiner instead of the Post; and the D.C. Daily, perhaps an homage to the tabloidy Washington Examiner, which switched to a weekly format last summer.
This season, actual media figures seem to have a larger footprint, with cameos from the likes of Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity.
CNN host Ashleigh Banfield does an explosive interview with Claire Underwood, a manipulative D.C. doyenne whose ruthless conniving is surpassed only by her hero-villain husband, Vice President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).
"This is going to make waves like you've never imagined," Banfield tells her.
(Disclosure: We haven't finished the season yet. Let us know if we're missing anyone!)
Bai said he knows "House of Cards" showrunner Beau Willimon, and that the show's official political consultant, former Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton press secretary Jay Carson, is a friend. In the run up to season one, Bai sat down with them over dinner at The Capital Grille while they were on a "fact-finding mission" in Washington. Bai even stopped by the show's writers' room one day in Venice Beach, Calif.
When work on season two began, Bai got a call from Willimon letting him know that he was being written into the plot and they wanted him to shoot a few scenes. With the blessing of Hugo Lindgren, who was the editor of the Times Magazine back then, Bai filmed for a day in August and another in September.
Willimon also asked for permission to depict a copy of a fake New York Times Magazine. Higher-ups at the Times were shown a mock-up and they signed off.
"We OK-ed it given the context within the series and Matt's involvement," said Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman.
Bai likewise got to look over his portions of the script. He made a few tweaks, like ditching a line in which he talks about the "angle" of his piece: "I would never discuss my stories in terms of angles."
What about how "House of Cards" depicts journalism overall?
"The essence of it is realistic," said Bai, "even if all the dramatic flourishes aren't a part of our daily lives."