5 ways to spot a B.S. political story

Wow, this little essay from Cracked (of all places) is fabulous.  Should be required reading for political journalists.  Really does get at what’s wrong with so much contemporary political reporting.   The #1 way is basically what we political scientists refer to as the personalization bias, or as David Wong put it:

#1. The Headline Includes the Phrase “Blow To”


Basically, It’s …

Neglecting to explain hugely important policy changes in favor of focusing on the drama, and how it affects the personal political careers of the politicians involved.

OK, you know about the huge fight over health care reform in America, right? Whether you think it’s a good or a bad plan, you can’t deny that it’s freaking huge (to the tune of a trillion dollars over 10 years, and 31 million people getting health insurance). It will impact almost every single human being living in the United States, either through their personal ability to get coverage, or their taxes, or changing health care costs, or changing rules to their existing coverage — there are dozens and dozens of new regulations that completely change the landscape of one of the largest sectors of the national economy.

So, when the Supreme Court recently threatened to completely overturn this gargantuan piece of legislation, how did it get reported?

Washington Post

The ruling could deal a blow to the “Obama presidency”? F*** you.

I don’t give two shits about the “Obama presidency” except in terms of what legislation it gets passed and how it changes the country and my life. I’m not following this story because I think it’s a freaking Barack Obama reality show and I’m really eager to see how his life turns out. I don’t see no goddamned crab boat. I’m following it because I want to know what it means for my own goddamned life and for the lives of the people I care about.

Exactly.  The sad truth is that much political press is way more concerned with personality and petty rivalry than the actual nuts and bolts of government and politics that affects peoples lives.  Truth is, it’s easy to write a story about Democrats and Republicans saying nasty things about each other regarding health care policy.  It’s much harder to actually understand the individual mandate (though not that much harder that reporters shouldn’t make the effort!).  Anyway, the whole thing is quite good.  Read it.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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