Fallows agrees with Elizabeth Edwards - the press is the problem.
This Sunday's New York Times -- fat, varied, making me wonder how I got anything done on the weekends in America when I routinely had all this to read -- had lots of interesting stuff in it. But the most important item was the op-ed by Elizabeth Edwards called "Bowling 1, Health Care 0."..
...The more heartfelt and bitter complaint is about the way press coverage seems biased not against any particular candidate but against the entire process of politics, in the sense that politics includes the public effort to resolve difficult issues. (Medical care, climate change, banking crises, military priorities, etc.) For twenty years I have heard this from frustrated politicians -- Gary Hart, Newt Gingrich, Jimmy Carter, Dick Gephardt, Bill Clinton, they may not share a lot of views but they are as one in this frustration. What galls all of them is the way that the incentives created by most coverage bring out the very worst in most politicians, and discourage them from even bothering to try the harder, more "responsible" path. No one says that press incentives turn potential Abraham Lincolns into real-world Tom DeLays. But the incentives push in that direction rather than the reverse.
Active politicians rarely dare say this in public, since they know the same reporters and commentators will be there to talk about them tomorrow and the next day and from then on. For reasons personal (health) and political (husband out of the race), Elizabeth Edwards no longer has to hold anything back...
Alas, neither Edwards nor Fallows asked the interesting questions.
Why is the print press* bad? Is it really getting worse?
My suspicion is that the Craisglist-Google driven decline in ad revenues is forcing newspapers to be ever more customer focused -- which means struggling to hold onto the eyeballs their advertisers want.
That means they give their readers what they want.
What does the portion of the public who's willing to read a newspaper want?
The bulk of the readership doesn't want to read about policy, they want to be distracted and entertained. So the newspapers provide them entertaining news about politicians, such as their hair styles, bowling scores, partners, pastors, etc.
Pogo said it long ago - We have met the enemy and he is us. The media is not the problem, the voters are the problem.
It's easy for Elizabeth Edwards and James Fallows to beat up on the press. Heck, they richly deserve a beating. It's a lot harder for them to admit the real problem is the American citizen.
Now that's a hard problem.
* I don't know anything about TV and radio news except NPR, so I'll omit them.