Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Maybe the press is waking up??

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Credit where credit’s due: The Politico‘s top two editors have published a lengthy and comprehensive piece cataloging the multiple failures that have been marring the nation’s political coverage — and they didn’t spare themselves, either.

The hook for the piece — written by Politico editors John Harris and Jim VandeHei — was Hillary’s victory in New Hampshire, which came after the electorate had been buffeted for days by a hurricane of punditry and reporting predicting political doom for Hillary. They wrote:

New Hampshire sealed it. The winner was Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the loser — not just of Tuesday’s primary but of the 2008 campaign cycle so far — was us.”Us” is the community of reporters, pundits and prognosticators who so confidently — and so rashly — stake our reputations on the illusion that we understand politics and have special insight that allows us to predict the behavior of voters.

If journalists were candidates, there would be insurmountable pressure for us to leave the race. If the court of public opinion were a real court, the best a defense lawyer could do is plea bargain out of a charge that reporters are frauds in exchange for a signed confession that reporters are fools.

The piece ticks off a litany of journalistic failures: Addiction to horse race coverage; slavish adherence to arbitrarily created narratives; a willingness to let coverage be tainted by the preference for certain outcomes; an eagerness to be led around on a leash by Drudge; etc., etc. It concludes: “There is generally one good answer to excesses and hype in political journalism: Respect the voters. That means waiting to find out what they really think.”

Now, some readers will find this or that to quibble with in The Politico piece or say that the editors weren’t hard enough on their own publication. And my bet is some people will be looking even harder at The Politico going forward to see if it honors its own prescriptions in the observance — or in the breach.

Either way, the piece strikes me as a well-intentioned start at identifying some of our profession’s less-than-admirable tendencies. And I’m glad Politico published it.

But here’s the thing. In the end, such public mea culpas are only worth the pixels they’re published with. (How’s that phrase for a sign of the times?) The best mea culpa of all is one that’s comprised of, you know, not doing this sort of stuff anymore. A spoken mea culpa without action can end up being worse than nothing at all. It lets folks tell themselves that by owning up to screw-ups, they’ve done necessary due diligence — even if they haven’t done squat to change things.

Anyway, for anyone (ourselves at TPM included) who feels like taking a stab at what one might call a silent mea culpa — one comprised of action, not talk — the Politico piece offers a blueprint on where to start.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2008 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Media

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