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June 27, 2005

Ezra Klein on the Incapacity of the Press (Why Oh WHy Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Ezra Klein writes about the incapacity of the Washington press corps to cover the real story of American governance:

Ezra Klein: The Survivor : John Harris, author of the Clinton assessment The Survivor... a fun read.... Harris's insights, though, are more interesting for what they say about him than the Administration he's discussing.

Harris was the Washington Post's lead reporter on Clinton during the President's second term.... Harris's focus is the same now as then: process, personalities, and politics all come before policy. No one reading the book could count themselves uninformed on how the administration's internal debates played out, but the flip side is that no one reading could call themselves experts on the policies that drove those debates....

A budget surplus and a strong job market only become stories when they change. Otherwise, they don't fill newspaper pages that need to keep coming out.... Liberals today rage that Bush's legion of f* ups lack the lavish coverage given to Clinton's. They shouldn't be surprised. Bush's f* ups are substantive. They simply exist. They can be told in a sidebar, with numbers, in an article. They require little investigation and less detective work. They... remain substantively the same a week, a month, a year later, with only the numbers showing ....

Funnily enough, however, the public is less insipid than the press.... Americans, it would seem, like peace and prosperity, are happy with job growth, are content without invasions. That's not to say they're particularly unforgiving when those things aren't around, but they don't ignore the good news, either....

Harris's book in a nutshell [is] stories, tales, drama, plot. Gingrich's machinations, Clinton's jokes, Morris's eccentricities... past 440 pages. Policy... takes up only a smidge... it's well hidden amidst all the color.... [The] book... gives surface insight into the Clinton presidency, offers deep insight into the media's mind. Read as an example of what catches the press's attention, it's well worth the time spent and surprisingly relevant to the largely successful press management practiced by the Bush Administration. And that's not meant as bitter or judgmental, merely realistic. The world works a certain way, and though we'd all like for it to run different, we might as well read the rulebook while we wait.

Posted by DeLong at June 27, 2005 09:13 PM