Monday, August 31, 2009

Muppet News Flash!

Some very sensible comments today from John Sides, Ezra Klein (here and here), Matt Yglesias, and TNC, all essentially knocking down Paul Krugman's reporter-based explanation of why the news is the way it is with a consumer-based version. Matt and Ezra have the logic of it, and John backs it up with research, while TNC reminds us that "'The People' aren't noble. And they aren't evil, either."

I want to expand a bit on that last point. There's a temptation to say that the audience is wrong to want horse race coverage; at best, it's logical, but too bad. Here's how John Sides puts it:
In short, the actual audience for news wants to hear more about strategy. Why? Probably because they already know what candidate or, in this case, policy they favor — at least in broad terms (e.g., yea or nay on health care reform) — and so they want to know whether their preferred policy is “winning.” That’s what strategy coverage provides them.
What one can add about this is that it's perfectly obvious, if you think about it, that one of these things changes constantly (whether the policy or candidate is winning) while the other just doesn't. Krugman and Yglesias and Klein and Sides and I already knew what we needed to know about John McCain well before January 2008, and we knew what we needed to know about Barack Obama at about that time -- yes, there's new real information, but very little. So in summer 2008 what was new was the chances each had of winning. We, and those of you reading this who are intense information consumers, know quite a bit about health care. The substance of health care reform hasn't changed at all since the beginning of the year (the bills change, but the underlying situation is what it is). But all the inside baseball of health care reform keeps producing news, and so naturally that's what we want to read. Not because we're lazy about policy, but because that's what's actually new.

Ezra Klein is wrong, however, to say that speculation about the results of the 2010 election cycle isn't real news. In fact, there are lots of things going on right now that will determine the outcomes of those elections, and there's nothing wrong at all in principle with a big summary article compiling expert views of the state of play so far (although the article would be better if the authors had consulted some political scientists. Really. We do know a few things).


  1. You title your post "Muppet News Flash" and you don't even throw in a token muppet joke at the end? Really?

  2. Fair enough. How's this:

    [Waldorf]: I heard that Fox News is buying the theater!

    [Statler]: Do you think they'll change anything?

    [Waldorf]: I don't know, but since when are all of the chickens blondes????

    Sorry, everyone.


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