To continue the dialogue with Marc Ambinder over the press’s role in the campaign environment one should concede what I take to be his two main points namely that (a) there are reasons the public is susceptible to deception that have nothing to do with campaign journalism, and (b) it would be difficult to do campaign journalism in a way that wouldn’t be open to some form of arguably legitimate criticism from some quarters.
That said, to dial down the tone of accusations a bit is only to leave us with the more fundamental issue — what is all this campaign journalism for? A few news organizations still maintain large bureaus in Baghdad. They do this, it seems, to inform people about events in Iraq. But if lying works as a campaign strategy, rather than backfiring and getting the liar branded as an untrustworthy character, then what’s the campaign journalism for? On some level, like everything else in the media, it’s there to make a profit. But what’s the intended audience? ESPN News’ coverage doesn’t have any higher purpose, but it’s there for people who want to learn about the day’s sports news and it gets the job done. But what’s the campaign press doing? It seems to me that if the practitioners of campaign journalism can’t figure out a way to make it so that lying is punished, rather than amplified and rewarded, by the press then they ought to pack up their bags and go do something else. Pretty much all the other branches of the press — from the film critics to the foreign correspondents to the weathermen to the investigative reporters to the “news of the weird” guys — seem to have a clear role in the ecology.