Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How The Political Media Thinks

Ezra Klein had a short post over at Vox the other day where he outlined how it's a good thing that Hillary is committing all these gaffes right now because now she has time to get back into the swing of things before the 2016 cycle really heats up. As Klein put it:
Hillary Clinton is rusty. Her book tour is proof. She got in a fight with NPR's Terry Gross over gay marriage. She said, ridiculously, that she and her husband were "dead broke" upon leaving the White House (you have to be pretty damn rich to be that broke). She told the Guardian that "we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off"  —  an odd statement for someone who is, by any measure, absurdly well off.

The gaffes have occasioned a rapid reassessment of whether Clinton is really the fearsome campaigner so many assumed. "She's an overrated politician," writes the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein. "Some Democrats fear Clinton's wealth and ‘imperial image' could be damaging in 2016," reports the Washington Post.
The big thing here isn't to argue that Clinton didn't commit any gaffes, yelling at Terry Gross counts as a gaffe when there are so many other ways to doge her questions. The big thing is to point out that gaffes don't matter. Yes they really, really don't (okay a Mel Gibson type meltdown would probably matter, but that wouldn't be called a gaffe right?) Indeed the big take away from 2014 (and 2013 I guess) is that Hillary is dominating the invisible primary as no non-incumbent Prez or VP has ever before. Meaning, bad radio interview aside, it's quite possible that Hillary has already wrapped up the nomination. Like right now. Which mean that Klein is really missing the big picture here.

Which makes me ask the question, how could a smart and talented reporter like Ezra Klein miss this big point? I don't think it's because there is something wrong with Ezra, I think it just illuminates a bigger point about journalists that cover politics. And so I want to coin my own way of describing this strange anomaly, let's call it Anderson's Razor which states that: to journalists in the political media, there is no politics outside of the political media.

What do I mean by that, well I mean that journalists like Klein see politics as being fully contained by the political media itself. In other words "politics" is everything that the political media learns about, writers about, and talks about amongst other people in the political media. So things like "dominating the invisible primary" doesn't count as "politics" for the political media because by it's very nature the invisible primary is impossible to cover. The collective opinions and actions of hundreds of thousands of party actors in the Democratic Party is at is core something you can't know, so the political journalist simply ignores the whole concept. Saying roughly, "it's not something that we can really cover, so it isn't politics", even though the invisible primary is very important in deciding who the next president will be.

This is a big part of why gaffes get so much coverage in the political media, even though they don't really matter. There's nothing else to write about! Since the self-imposed rules of Anderson's Razor keep you from discussing things like the invisible primary the only things that are happening in the 2016 race, that is in terms of things that the political media can write about, are the gaffes. There's nothing else to write about.

Now why do people like Klein follow these self created rules? I have no idea, but it goes a long way to understanding the poor coverage of the 2016 race.


I'm still posting regularly at The Good Men Project but I'm also going to start posting here more regularly as well. So feel free to come back, that is if everyone hasn't already left.

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