Doing Your Job Is Hard When You Hate It

Marc Ambinder on McCain’s “Originial Mavericks” ad:

You can sort of see, from this new McCain-Palin advertisement, why it’s so crucial for Barack Obama to link John McCain to the Republican Party.  BTW: the ad claims that Palin “stopped the Bridge to Nowhere,” which is technically true but functionally false. No blowback, though: the electorate doesn’t seem to penalize campaigns for deliberately distorting the record of their candidate and their opponent. It’s probably an artifact of twenty years’ worth of campaign advertisements and has something to do with the way consumers process news.

Yglesias responds:

But couldn’t it have something to do with the way the campaign press reports news? Back in 2000, the exit polls showed that among the 24 percent of the electorate who said it was very important to them to select an “honest and trustworthy” president, 80 percent voted for George W Bush. This, I assume, had something to do with the fact that the press repeatedly weaved through its coverage of Gore a narrative about Gore’s alleged difficulty telling the truth, even though most of the data points where Gore lied or “exaggerated” were actually made up by the press. McCain, by contrast, has not only been caught in several bald-faced lies, but in a few instances — this business with Palin and the bridge most notably — keeps on doing it in very high-profile contexts even though they’ve gotten called on it repeatedly. So where’s the narrative about how McCain’s key strategy introducing Sarah Palin to the public and turning his campaign around is based on putting lies at the heart of the presentation? There are a few dozen people, of whom Marc is one, in a position to create this narrative. They’ve chosen not to do so, but that’s a decision they’ve made not a fact about “the way consumers process news.”

And the guys over at County Fair add:

Four days ago — the morning after Sarah Palin’s convention speech — Ambinder wrote: “The press and the larger media will obsess over her and her family and her life. Every word she says will be subject to parsing and semiotic analysis.”

Even as Ambinder wrote those words, the media was ignoring the fact that the night before, Palin had once again lied about telling Congress Alaska didn’t want the bridge to nowhere.  Palin’s words weren’t “parsed” – the media ignored her false claims, or repeated them as though they were true.

And now Ambinder pretends the lack of “blowback” over Palin’s false claims is a result of “the way consumers process news.” 

Nonsense.  It’s quite obviously a result of the fact that the media isn’t telling people about those false claims.  Instead, they’re just asserting that Palin is effective and “authentic.”

And that, I think, hits most squarely at out current problem with political media. To put it bluntly, no one hates journalism more than…journalists. Especially the elite journalists who anchor hours on cable news networks and do “reported blogs on politics” for publications like The Atlantic. Being a reporter isn’t really fun. You basically read scripted stories designed to inform your audience of basic facts and are supposed to keep your own opinions to yourself. No one wants to do that, especially in a media environment full of “analysts” who are supposed to process the journalists’ information and tell the people what it all means. Those are the people who get to look smart, to come off to the audience like they really know what they’re talking about, whereas the journalists are just typing/reading the raw materials that go into punditry.

So what the journalists have done is to blur the lines between journalism and punditry, so that they can get in on the punditry fun. People like Andrea Mitchell, Campbell Brown, David Shuster, Tom Brokaw, and Wolf Blitzer have no business offering up “analysis” about anything on television. It’s not their job, and, as such, they’re simply not qualified to do it, on top of the fact thatit blurs the distinction and diminishes the quality of reporting. And this is Ambinder’s problem. Ambinder, and other reporters, could easily just point out that the McCain campaign is lying. But reporting that over and over isn’t nearly as fun, and doesn’t stroke the egos of elite journalists as well, as speculating about how voters “digest information” and how various campaign activities will playwith swing voters, women, active grannies, or whomever. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, so long as we can keep punditry and reporting sepereated, and the people who are charged with reporting do their jobs, and don’t cross the boundary.