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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vintage whine

Don't look now, but the organization that helped trivialize political coverage isn't happy with the state of public affairs reporting.

Politico offers a biting look at the Obama administration's relationship with a press corps, decrying this administration's skills at keeping reporters -- especially traditional print ones -- at bay while skillfully using social media to shape its message.

The story is but the latest in a long line of public complaints that date back at least as as far as Joe McGinniss's Selling of the President 1968 and highlights the reality that politicians, left and right, have long spent considerable time and effort to keep a hostile press corps at bay.

But what the piece ignores is how the adversarial press corps has shrunk and how many outlets, starting with Politico, have trivialized coverage of substance in pursuit of the easy hit, like shots of Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods.

How many stories have already appeared handicapping the 2016 presidential race, one month into the first year of the four-year second term?

And how many reporters have taken a deep dive into the motivation of other key players in the Washington soap opera that has produced gridlock and stalemate?

Yes, there have been a few thumb suckers on how Republican legislators are using obstruction to build up their bona fides against potential challenges from the right in 2014 and beyond. But how may of them put the issues into context -- such as South Carolina's Lindsay Graham's full-scale ammo-less assault on Chuck Hagel's nomination to head the Pentagon.

The Washington press corps has long preferred politics to substance. And when the occasional serious look is done, it's back to the head in the sand.

What's also clearly lacking is context. Each story is treated as an isolated case, with no effort to draw lines that tie things together.

Take for example, reporting on GOP outrage over a leaked administration immigration plan. Why were Republicans so annoyed that the president they once ripped for "leading from behind" was actually planning to offer a package on a proposal that has failed to move the needle in Congress for a decade?

You'd be hard pressed to hear that explained virtually anywhere apart from the major print outlets, sources which do not serve the vast majority of American news consumers.

Is it troubling that politicians pick favorites in their quest to get the best polish on their message? Of course.

But is is equally troubling that much of the coverage that actually appears is trivial and often poorly reported? Yes again.

The conflict is as old as the hills and the politicians will always win it, unless the media and its consumers stand up and demand better, from both sides.

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