Saturday, December 21, 2013

Why don't political reporters care about politics?

I don't understand why political reporters--a profession that I would think would attract people who are interested in politics--display so little interest in actual politics.

Maybe the problem is they have a different understanding of what "politics" is. To me, politics is about competing arguments over policy questions. The Keystone Pipeline, to take a semi-random example, raises arguments about the relative value of things like jobs, cheap energy, the risk of spills, dependence on fossil-based energy sources, domestic vs. foreign supplies of energy, global warming, etc. Those are all real questions and a real political discussion of that issue should address at least some of those things.

But instead a whole lot of political reporting is about polls (i.e. what is popular), whether a policy decision is deemed good in the short term (i.e. whether a politician had a "good week" or a "bad week"), whether someone said something stupid about the issue (i.e. "gaffes"), and how people in power shuffle around members of their staff. That stuff is really not politics. In fact, I think the popularity contest side of political reporting is a lot less interesting than the meaty policy issues. And yet, professional political reporters so heavily favor the former over the latter. Virtually every book that gets published by a Washington based political reporter has very little, if any, actual politics. (e.g.)

I don't get it. If you just want to cover stupid comments made by famous people and write about what is popular, you might as well be covering Hollywood. Why do they even want to be covering politics if they have so little interest in the subject matter?