The existential crises of the modern political reporter


Ezra Klein considers truth in the American presidential campaign.

Quite simply, the Romney campaign isn’t adhering to the minimum standards required for a real policy conversation. Even if you bend over backward to be generous to them — as the Tax Policy Center did when they granted the Romney campaign a slew of essentially impossible premises in order to evaluate their tax plan — you often find yourself forced into the same conclusion: This doesn’t add up, this doesn’t have enough details to be evaluated, or this isn’t true. I don’t like that conclusion. It doesn’t look “fair” when you say that. We’ve been conditioned to want to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame, and the fact of the matter is, I would like to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame. I’d personally feel better if our coverage didn’t look so lopsided. But first the campaigns have to be relatively equal. So far in this campaign, you can look fair, or you can be fair, but you can’t be both.

Mark Leibovich goes looking for joy.

But what’s been completely missing this year has been, for lack of a better word, joy. Yes, it’s always kind of fun to follow Joe Biden around and wait to hear what will come out of his mouth next, and who knows what Paul Ryan has hidden under his oversize jacket. But the principals don’t seem to be experiencing much joy as they go through their market-tested paces. A kind of faux-ness permeates everything this year in a way that it hasn’t been quite so consuming in the past. The effect has been anesthetizing and made it difficult to take any of the day’s supposed gaffes, game-changers and false umbrages seriously. The campaigns appeared locked in a paradigm of terrified superpowers’ spending blindly on redundant warfare. How many times do they have to blow up Vladivostok? Where were the surprises, the pleasures of discovery and the true emotion of the newly vitalized? The volunteers who decided to get involved because so-and-so inspired them, not because the other guy (the socialist or the plutocrat) scared them? They seemed in such short supply. This might or might not be the most important election of our lifetime — as we are told it is every four years — but it really did feel like the most joyless.

Sasha Issenberg says campaign reporters can’t see the campaign.

Over the last decade, almost entirely out of view, campaigns have modernized their techniques in such a way that nearly every member of the political press now lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what’s going on. Campaign professionals have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding what moves votes. It’s as if restaurant critics remained oblivious to a generation’s worth of new chefs’ tools and techniques and persisted in describing every dish that came out of the kitchen as either “grilled” or “broiled.” “When I went to work for my first campaign, in 1994, I was actually surprised at how journalists tended to think one step ahead where campaigns are four steps ahead,” says Joel Benenson, a former newspaper reporter who now serves as President Obama’s chief pollster. “Think of it as a level-five player in chess and a level-eight player in chess. You had people covering campaigns who are at the mercy of the grandmasters of politics.”


The existential crises of the modern political reporter

  1. What about existential crisis of readers who are subjected to hackneyed political reporting? Reporters get paid to write twaddle, while I have to pay to read it – seems like better deal to be reporter than a consumer.

    • Well, not exactly. you don’t have to pay.

      • By hook or crook, we pay for Canadian news.

        And I think einstein quote is spot on.

        “The Canada Periodical Fund (CPF) provides financial assistance to Canadian print magazines, non-daily newspapers and digital periodicals to enable them to overcome market disadvantages and continue to provide Canadian readers with the content they choose to read.”
        “The Broadcasting Act also sets out a framework for the activities of Canada’s broadcasting entities such as the national public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada and Canada’s regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

        • You’re right, and they rarely “earn” a cent of that money.

  2. These are not existential crises. These are reporters expressing dismay that they can’t dictate the election. They don’t want to report. They want to persuade. They want to be part of the campaign. Wherry himself is an expert in this regard.

    It’s almost hilarious. Obama passed a health care overhaul that claimed to be deficit-neutral through the most cynical accounting tricks, such as counting only 6 years of expenses and 10 years of revenues. Only an idiot would buy the argument that adding 30 million people to government healthcare would be deficit neutral and the quality of health care for everyone else would remain the same. And then this bozo Ezra Klein complains that the critics (such as Paul Ryan) of said accounting trickery and complete dishonesty are the purveyors of dishonesty. And then Aaron Wherry is so proud of his twin in the USA that he reprints this garbage. You have supposed “fact-checkers” who hem and haw over a Paul Ryan speech without every being able to identify a single untruth in the entire speech, while Obama repeated the same lies dozens upon dozens of times without them showing the slightest concern.

    That’s political reporting for you.

  3. The reality is this.

    All three of those reporters (and Wherry as well) have one thing in common that explains those three laments: their preferred candidate is at risk of losing.

    That’s it. They’re not really worried about truth in campaigning or reporting, about joy, or about expertise. All 3 of three of them are upset because Romney is now tied with Obama.

    That’s it.

    If this were 2008, with Obama comfortably in front, you’d see none of this whining. But with Obama (the obviously superior candidate who should be winning by a landslide in their minds), there’s something terribly wrong with elections and democracy, and by golly, they’re gonna figure out what it is. And when they do, they’ll let us know the real reason he’s losing (not ahead, anyway). Because god knows, the last thing it could be is Obama himself, and his poor record, his poor ideas and his failing policies. It couldn’t possibly be 5 trillion of debt and nothing to show for it. No, it must be lying by everyone else (Democrats are paragons of the truth, by definition), or lack of joy, or whatever other bogus and ridiculous ideas they can come up with.

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