January 7, 2008 Leave a comment
In short, because campaign reporters are little better than nervous new college freshman, even after years on the job. God forbid one of them should have an opinion out of line with their peers. Christopher Hayes offers a brief dissection of the problem:
MANCHESTER, NH — Before I post about dynamics of the race as it's
playing out here, a quick thought about the psychology of the political
press . Reporting at event like this is exciting and invigorating, but
it's also terrifying. I've done it now a number of times at conventions
and such, and in the past I was pretty much alone the entire time. I
didn't know any other reporters, so I kept to myself and tried to
navigate the tangle of schedules and parking lots and hotels and event
venues. It's daunting and the whole time you think: “Am I missing
something? What's going? Oh man, I should go interview that guy in the
parka with the fifteen buttons on his hat.” You fear getting lost, or
missing some important piece of news, or making an ass out of yourself
when you have to muster up that little burst of confidence it takes to
walk up to a stranger and start asking them questions.
Of course, it's amazing work. But I realized for the first time
yesterday, that this essential terror isn't just a byproduct of
inexperience. It never goes away .
Veteran reporters are just as panicked about getting lost or missing
something, just as confused about who to talk to. This why reporters
move in packs. It's like the first week of freshman orientation, when
you hopped around to parties in groups of three dozen, because no one
wanted to miss something or knew where anything was.
Hayes is also kind enough to offer actual common-sense solutions to the structural problems that create this problem. My favorite, give stories to reporters who actually know what they are talking about:
Assign campaign coverage to beat reporters. When Obama released his tax plan. the article
that ran in the TImes about the plan was authored by the Obama beat
reporter Jeff Zeleny. Zeleny?s a perfectly good political reporter, and
he?s been following Obama since ?03, when he was writing for the Trib,
but there?s no earthly reason to think he?s well-equipped to report on
a tax plan. Meanwhile, the Times happens to have on staff the
Pulizer-Prize-winning David Cay Johnston,
who is unquestionably the single best tax reporter in the country. Why
wouldn?t you assign him to write the piece about Obama?s tax plan? The
same goes for every substantive area of policy.
I can't help but wonder how much better our political discourse might be if we actually had better political reporting.