The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, September 20, 2004
 

Futile Why, oh whys on campaign coverage


It's all horse race, back-and-forths [1], campaign strategy and personnel [2] - with the issues relegated to A18.

For instance, the E&P are bellyaching under hed and dek
Why Are We In Vietnam?
Newspapers are failing voters by dwelling on the past, when current issues in the Bush-Kerry race need our undivided attention. For one thing: rumor has it, there's a war going on today.

Romenesko links more pieces in similar vein.

Top of the head reasons:

  1. Journos prefer the buzz of a process piece like the Swifties or Dan Rather's scoop-that-wasn't (not to mention the delights of Jodi Wilgoren's Kerry's butler) than dealing with the merits of candidates' policies on, say, education or health care.

  2. Most journos on the campaign don't have specialist expertise in issues like education or health care [3]: their expertise is in hanging around and picking up gossip and press releases. The big units (LAT-NYT-WP) will have health and education specialists - but how often are they deployed on campaign stories? Their main job will be to service their own pages: and I suspect there would be a culture clash with the campaign journos similar to that acknowledged as existing between the news and magazine journos at the New York Times [4].

  3. Most readers, despite what they might like to think [5], aren't much interested in policy analysis pieces; just like the hacks, they prefer the back-and-forths roorbacks and trivia (Kerry windsurfing, Kerry skiing and colliding with a journo, Alex Kerry's Cannes see-through dress - worth a thousand Swifties!).

  4. Newspapers answer to shareholders, who appreciate steady increases in stock prices, and no nasty surprises [6]; by slavishly and stenographically following the agendas of the campaigns and indulging their party pieces, a paper reduces the risk of post-election revenge from the winning candidate.

Was it ever thus? Was - to take the first US presidential election of the TV era - the 1960 campaign covered with issues (like Kennedy's falsehood on the missile gap) to the fore? I'm disposed to doubt it [7].

  1. Back-and-forth as a compound noun was a new one on me; it put me in mind of the comedy stand-by, or scène-à-faire as I think the copyright lawyers have it, the head bobbing from side to side as if watching a tennis match from either side of the court. The world-weariness in the expression is palpable; each side in a back-and-forth (DNC and RNC, say) is vastly more interested in the contest than any substance there might be. The journos are similarly cynical: it's all a show for the suckers. That's suckers as in
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all suckers are created equal...
  2. Don't you love the permanent floating hiring-fair that Dem operatives have got going?

  3. There is, for example, some controversy about the costing of Kerry's health care plans. The Bush true believers at the AEI have produced numbers challenging the costings produced by Ken Thorpe earlier in the campaign.

    My guess is that the media covered the AEI piece stenographically, like the Philadelphia Inquirer (September 14). The scribes bylined are Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn of the Inquirer Washington Bureau (it's part of Knight Ridder, which did stand-out work on the Iraqi WMD business) - googling these guys produces no evident medical or health bias in subjects covered for the paper.

  4. As revealed by the Peter Landesman sex slaves story The Girls Next Door. An idea first put forward by NYTM editor Gerry Marzorati - February 4 piece. Many other pieces here on Landesman.

  5. And, perhaps, what they tell pollsters. Pew should have stuff on this, but I'm disinclined to check.

  6. For a mature market like newspapers or TV, the reliability of a steadily increasing profit may contribute most to a company's P/E ratio. A sawtooth or wholly random pattern of earnings growth will be valued much less by the market than the same earnings accruing at a steady rather of growth. (My hypothesis...)

  7. A cursory search online produce zilch of substance. I have a Theodore White Making of the President lurking somewhere...

MORE

Carpetbagger has one or two interesting thoughts on the AEI study.


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