Balance of Power is Shifting Toward Politicians

Dave Weigel did a shrewd post yesterday called “Why I Don’t Write About Sarah Palin’s Facebook Posts” arguing:

The problem is that Palin has put the political press in a submissive position, one in which the only information it prints about her comes from prepared statements or from Q&As; with friendly interviewers. This isn’t something most politicians get away with, or would be allowed to get away with. But Palin has leveraged her celebrity — her ability to get ratings, the ardor of her fans and the bitterness of her critics — to win a truly unique relationship with the press. She is allowed to shape the public debate without actually engaging in it.

The larger issue here, however, is the rapidly shifting balance of power between the political press and politicians. Bandwidth used to be very thin. If you wanted to communicate to voters, you had to get the attention of one of a very small number of national television newscasts or one or two local newspapers. Now there’s much more bandwidth you can take advantage of. At the same time, budgets have declined. Consequently, campaign coverage now consists largely of reporting what candidates or their representatives said or even just putting two proxies on television and listening to them talk. Segments that report in a moderately serious way about what the candidates are all about are a very small share of the total.

Shift off the relatively high-ratings campaign season, and it gets even worse. Coverage of the health care reform issue has consisted almost entirely of simply repeating the fact that so-and-so said such-and-such. The issue isn’t just that most of the coverage is undesirably “he said, she said” it’s that the initiative has been ceded in an odd way. Instead of reporting on the bill and what its implications are for the American people, you get reporting on what Judd Gregg said about the bill.


This is the promise and the peril of digital media. People can communicate much more directly with their constituents, the media elite have much less power, consumers are much better-informed about the things they want to look up, but there’s less of an authoritative common culture that can force the national conversation down avenues deemed important.