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?
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.