The long form - Macleans.ca

The long form

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This corner has developed a special interest in long-form political journalism, produced hard on the heels of major political events. Here are the day’s main examples of the form.

1. The New York Times comes out of the gates with a dainty amuse-bouche of 4,500 words. Highlights:

• Everything changed when John McCain said “the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” several hours before another leader in another national election said the “fundamentals of the economy are strong” and nothing much changed. Context, we see, is everything.

• The Obama campaign was flawless in every way, a message the Times reporters deliver a dozen different ways. “Ice-cold disciplined about the execution of his campaign message,” McCain’s campaign manager says mournfully.

• But it wasn’t that perfect, and the Reverend Wright business caught the Obama troops by surprise. Which it probably shouldn’t have.

• The whole Muslim thing was super-scary to the Obama campaign. “I spoke up and joked, ‘Well, yeah, he’s a Sunni,’ one campaign guy says. “Nobody laughed; I mean, nobody. It was incredibly instructive to me, ‘Hey, they’re really worried.’ ”

• Obama indulged heartily in the media-buy trick of rolling out sunshiny, positive messages to the national press corps, while buying “bruising, sometimes misleading” ads in local markets.

2. But there is nothing anywhere that compares to Newsweek‘s issue-long post mortem, which the magazine has done in every presidential cycle since 1984. The Newsweek packages — written by Evan Thomas with contributions from a team of reporters who follow the campaign for more than a year and are offered exclusive access on the condition that their work will not be published until after Election Day — are, obviously, the model for the slightly-more-modest thumpers Maclean’s has run after the 2006 and 2008 elections and the last Liberal leadership race. Chapters 1 and 2 (of 7) of the Newsweek opus are already up; a teaser piece offers highlights from the entire thing, including:

• Both campaigns’ computers were expertly hacked by a “foreign entity” seeking information that could compromise a new president;

• Sarah Palin was an even bigger spender than anyone has heard before now;

• Threats against Obama’s safety spiked in late September and early October;

• McCain’s team debated telling him before the last televised debate that he already had no more chance to win. They decided against it;

• The McCain campaign was terrified of facing Hillary Clinton as Obama’s running mate;

• Obama’s private answers to Brian Williams’ debate questions were a lot funnier than the ones he permitted himself to deliver on teevee.

There is a constant debate in newsrooms about whether readers have any patience for long discussions of politics. And of course, a hell of a lot of readers don’t. What we’ve found at Maclean’s since we started giving it a try, however, is that there are always enough readers who will follow us as far as we want to go in such discussions.

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