Campaign Reporting

Yglesias writes:

Not only is this business of traveling with the candidate not very useful, with its huge ratio of time spent traveling to time spent doing stuff, but it’s also quite expensive for the news organization paying for your travel. And yet, it’s considered essential to do it. After all, that’s “reporting.” And reporting, as we all know, is the essence of “journalism.” Spend hours on planes and buses and so forth and vast sums of money and then you can report on what John McCain said at a rally. Sit at home and watch the rally on television or look up transcripts, and that’s not reporting at all.

I’m not sure if he’s being sarcastic or not, so I’ll just quickly say that I do think that that would clasify as “reporting,” especially in so muh as most people aren’t going to watch every minute of every campaign rally themselves.

But the larger point I want to make note of is that campaign rallies dont really classify as news, and as such usually there’s nothing to report on. The candidates usually give variations of the same speech at every stop, they’re usually carefully managed pieces of campaign stagecraft, so few unexpected events happen, and for the most part that’s usually reflected in the way these stories are presented. You usually get “process” stories about how “Candidate X sharpened the attack line he’s been making for a week, and that we’ve talked about 1,000 times already,” or you get reports on the size of the crowd, or things attendees said, or maybe you even find out that lots of people left the rally after Palin spoke and didn’t stick around to listen to McCain. But, ultimately, none of that actually has any relevance to much of anything. That Obama has larger crowds than McCain, or that a lot of people are apparently more interested in seeing Sarah Palin than John McCain ultimately doesn’t affect my vote (nor anyone’s I would hope), and certainly means nothing after tomorrow. If John McCain does, hypothetically, win the election, that he called Obama a socialist won’t change the particulars of his healthcare plan. That Obama had 100,000 people see him in St. Louis won’t, in its own right, get his agenda through the Senate, nor change the practical effects of either candidates policies. So what we’ve basically got is a huge amount of time and resources going to produce fluff stories about matters of no importance, and that more often than not will devolve into glorifed stenography.

And that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if there weren’t a finite supply of resources and space. Every inch of copy that goes towards recounting trivial matters of the latest campaign stop is space that can’t go towards something like keeping up with developments in Iraq or trying to explain what the candidates various plans mean in practice. Which is in large part why we have substanceless campaigns in this country; at the end of the day our media just won’t cover that.

And we need better.