Eric keeps urging me to stop reading Mickey Kaus, for the sake of my sanity. Unfortunately, I sometimes can't help myself. Here's Kaus last night:
Isn't it pretty clear that the reason Obama is contesting McCain's home state of Arizona isn't to humiliate McCain or because Arizona might actually be decisive ... but as a media strategy to generate Election Week MSM stories about how McCain is on the defensive, etc. ... P.S.: It's working. On MTP, Tom Brokaw had "Arizona" at the top of his list of contested states, as part of a how-things-have-changed-for-McCain analysis. It's almost as if the MSM is playing along!
Yeah, it's almost as if the MSM ("mainstream media") is playing along with Obama's strategy. But not quite.
See, Pollster.com has McCain up by 5.2 points in Arizona. And Obama up by 7.7 points in Pennsylvania. And, of course, the MSM has devoted considerably more attention to Pennsylvania-as-swing-state than to Arizona -- just as McCain wants them to! It's almost as if the MSM is playing along, all right -- with McCain.
OReilly's been making the media rounds lately promoting his new book and one of his fave memes is that he's a marked man, and that crazy libs have made his life miserable. He tells CBS:
"My life is dangerous now. You know, I have bodyguards and security. I can't go many places. I can't be in certain crowd situations. When I do a book signing, I gotta have a phalanx of state troopers there because there are crazy people. And then there're the Web sites and all of that, which are just totally out of control. They encourage these nuts."
Stories about early voting lines in several states that have extended four, six, and eight hours are remarkable. I've been voting for the better part of two decades and we can't remember seeing anything like the widespread phenomena that's unfolding.
As Rachel Maddow noted in a recent commentary on MSNBC, on the one hand it makes you proud that citizens would endure that kind of hardship (and let's face it, is it) to vote. (Her other point was that the lines constitute a modern day poll tax.)
But what I can't understand is why isn't the press drilling down on the very simple question of why? Why is this happening? Is it simply the popularity of early voting, and does the process of early voting take that much longer?
That would seem to be journalism 101. But so far, all I've read and seen are a lot of can-you-believe-how-long-these-lines-are? reports. What I haven't seen is much insight into how and why this has suddenly became a country where, at least in some sizable pockets, it can take an entire workday to cast a single vote. (Or do political journalists only do horse race and personality-based campaign reporting?)
I'm not suggesting there's any dark conspiracy behind the long lines. Just that the state of voting in this country sorta resembles a joke, and that the press ought to treat that as a serious news story, instead of dismissing it the way today's WSJ did. In a news article about possible snafus that may unfold at the voting place tomorrow, the Journal listed one possibility as, "The lines are long." The next line in the Journal article read, "Tough luck."
Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein are having an interesting discussion of why news organizations spend so much of their resources flying around the country, watching speeches they could watch on television from their offices -- which would free up time to do more fact-checking of those speeches, among other things.
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." ... Sit at home and watch the rally on television or look up transcripts, and that's not reporting at all. Sure, you'd save a lot of time and that time could be spent gathering information. And sure, you watching the rally on TV at your desk where you have your internet connection makes it easier to find facts and put things in context. But the important thing is to do the reporting.
The central problem of the modern news media is, of course, supply. 24 hours of cable television a day, political junkies refreshing web sites -- you need more, more, more content. So the campaign pays people to come up with things that reporters can sell to editors and producers. Media organizations then pay to ensure their reporters are in close contact with these people, which assures the media organizations a steady stream of stuff to talk about.
I think both of them are missing a fairly simple point: Big news organizations pay a lot of money to send reporters out on the campaign trail because they can.
Sure, those reporters could stay in the office, watching the speeches on TV and reading the transcripts -- and "find[ing] facts and put[ting] things in context." But they couldn't do that much better than, say, Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein can. In fact, many of them would do it much worse.
Travelling with the candidate, on the other hand, is expensive. Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein probably can't do that.
Travelling with the campaign is important to the big news organizations in part because it constitutes a competitive advantage they have over blogs and independent media. They aren't about to sacrifice that advantage in order to focus on finding facts and putting things in context -- things many bloggers and independent media do much, much better than they do.
Fox & Friends was apparently set to do a segment (featuring Brent Bozell of the increasingly-ridiculous Media Research Center) complaining about Barack Obama ignoring FNC. Until FOX correspondent Major Garrett beat down that ill-considered idea in an email to Fox News staff obtained by Huffington Post:
From: Garrett, Major
Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 9:23 PM
Subject: Re: F & F Guests, November 3, 2008
In the context of the 6:15 am B Block "IGNORE FNC" segment, may I point out Obama has done 5 interviews with me and one with Chris Wallace, one with Brit Hume and one with Bill O'Reilly. That's 8 interviews.
John Dickerson at Slate plays the game of What-If.
What if Obama loses?? Slate says it would be a disaster for the press and political establishment. Dickerson, though, offers up no suggestions why Obama--currently projected by win by anywhere between 80 and 200 electoral votes--might actually lose. But hey, it makes for fun writing.
In my column on Friday, I touched on some of the Right's most absurd claims of media bias over the years.
Among the highlights: Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center complaining in February of 1998 that the media wasn't paying enough attention to the Monica Lewinsky story -- at a time when there were 500 news reports a day on the topic.
Now, in an apparent attempt to live down to the standard set by their fearless leader, the gang over at MRC's blog, Newsbusters, are blasting the San Francisco Chronicle for keeping an interview with Barack Obama "hidden from the public." According to Newsbusters, the video became public only through the heroic efforts of a right-wing blogger: "Hot Air's Ed Morrissey has found a video of that interview with the San Francisco Chronicle."
How, you might wonder, did the Chronicle keep the video "hidden from the public"? Did they lock the tape away in a vault deep beneth the Coit Tower, surrounded by armed guards, attack dogs, and a moat?
Ah ... no.
No, the Chronicle kept the video "hidden from the public" by posting it on their public web site. Nearly eight months ago. Where it has been viewable since.
Still: Newsbusters is convinced they've caught the Chronicle covering up the interview. Noel Sheppard predicts: "I'm sure we're going to hear more about this in the next few days. Stay tuned."
I can't wait.
It really is one of the great ironies surrounding conservative media criticism over the years; most of the people doing it don't understand how journalism works, in part because they've never worked as journalists, and therefore they have no respect for the profession.
Right-wing critiques of the press are usually filed by ideologues who, rather than trying to improve journalism, are trying to eradicate it, which pretty much sums up the work being done at NewsBusters.
I was reminded of that while reading this utterly predictable complaint about how the liberal media is (surprise!) going to cost John McCain the campaign. Specifically, the NewsBusters item details how when polled informally, journalists as a group often vote Democratic. And, of course (goes the Newsbusters thinking), because they vote Democratic that means journalists report Democratic, whatever that means.
Let's review some of the problems with this evergreen argument. First, lots of the newsroom surveys over the years have asked, in general, how journalists of all stripes voted on Election Day. But in terms of building a grand conspiracy theory about liberal bias regarding political coverage, do we really care how sports editors, obit writers and Metro columnists vote? Or does their liberal bias seep through into the box scores, obituaries, and their dispatches from zoning commission meetings? Meaning, probably 70 percent of what's printed in newspapers each day has nothing to do with partisan politics, so who cares how the people who produce that 70 percent vote?
Second, the simplistic conclusion that because a journalist might vote for a Democrat means that that journalist automatically, and without exception, skews his or her work in order to benefit Democrats, completely ignores the basic premise of journalism, which is called professionalism.
And third, if newsrooms tilt so tragically to the left, why don't conservatives try to get jobs in newsrooms? Why don't they jump at the chance to become poorly paid reporters in a dying industry? The answer (they'd rather be partisan pundits) brings us right back to my first point. Conservative press critics don't understand how journalism works, or respect the craft, because most of them have never been journalists.