Packer on Journalism

I may not agree with George Packer about the merits of new technology, but he’s dead-on about the problems with most political reporting:

Broder wasn’t analyzing Palin’s positions or accusations, or the truth or falsehood of her claims, or even the nature of the emotions that she appeals to. He was reviewing a performance and giving it the thumbs up, using the familiar terminology of political journalism. This has been so characteristic of the coverage of politics for so long that it doesn’t seem in the least bit odd, and it’s hard to imagine doing it any other way. A couple of weeks ago, the Times ran a piece by its lead political reporter, Adam Nagourney, about a Republican strategy session in Hawaii: “Here in Honolulu, the strains within the party over conservative principles versus political pragmatism played out in a sharp and public way, especially as the party establishment struggled to deal with the demands of the Tea Party movement.” The structure of the sentence, and of the article, puts the emphasis entirely on tactics and performance. This kind of prose goes down as easily and unnoticeably as a glass of sparkling water, with no aftertaste. Readers interested in politics drink quarts of it every day without gaining weight. And Broder and Nagourney are at the top of their game.

For a while, mainstream political reporters were very web-averse and the Internet offered a different, more engagé vision of talking about politicians. But it turns out that you can do the same kind of “political reporting as theater reviews” style of journalism on a blog or a Twitter feed. At any rate, I consider this another reason to try to enhance understanding of the fact that when it comes to political outcomes it’s the fundamentals that matter most. Interest in the horse-race aspects of politics is to some extent inevitable, but to understand the horse-race properly you need to spend more time trying to understand what’s actually happening in the country and less time paying attention to spin and positioning.