Home > media, political journalism, Politics, The New Yorker > Are Political Journalists Just Public Relations Experts?

Are Political Journalists Just Public Relations Experts?

As I’ve noted in my posts (e.g. here and here) about Rep. Ryan’s budget, commentators overwhelmingly are interested in the politics of public policy rather than its substance. George Packer writes a wonderful article at The New Yorker on the sorry state of political journalism. I’ve long been disappointed in the fixation on the politics of politics. It is why I try to seek out my news from economists, scientists, and other experts themselves (or at least journalists with more specialized knowledge) rather than what I see as some public relations experts dressed up as journalists. How many times have you seen Bill O’Reilly have that body language expert on? Who cares? Really?

The unrelenting focus on polling and political tactics has to be harming the ability to govern. I’m happy blogging has allowed me to more easily seek out experts’ opinions on various issues. Of course, a lot of blogs focus even more on the superficial than the mainstream media does. Amusingly, Packer imagines what it would look like if political journalists covered Karzai the way they do a political figure like Palin or Obama. He ends his piece with good advise to treat Washington as a foreign capital. Looking at it with the perspective of an extraterrestrial wouldn’t be bad either.

Anyone covering Washington, not excluding me, will sooner or later turn to a phrase like “refocus its image” or “a perception that the President has come to look” or “a pitch-perfect recital of the populist message,” because they come so easily, and because they make it unnecessary to say anything substantial, which means thinking hard and perhaps suffering the consequences. Still, as an exercise in accountability, political journalists should ask themselves from time to time: Would I write this about a war, or a depression? In the same vein, a government official once told me that the best way to cover Washington is as a foreign capital—as Baghdad, or Kabul.

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