As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Media Know-Nothings

It happened the Friday before Memorial Day and went almost unnoticed, but this small bit at the end of Hardball fairly well sums up the Village approach to government.

CILLIZZA: Here's the problem. She, she holds a press conference, she brings the leadership with her to show that everyone is behind her.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, but Steny was acting like her defender, he's her biggest rival...

CILLIZZA: I agree. She talks for, they talk for twenty-five minutes about essentially nothing. Everyone knows she has a plane to catch...

MATTHEWS: It's called policy, by the way, Chris. (LAUGHTER) Something only a political reporter would say.

CILLIZZA: That gets me. Well-played.

SIMON: Stuff we don't care about...

MATTHEWS: All this stuff, health care, cap and trade, all this stuff.

Political reporters are often derided as being sportswriters. But sportswriters actually bother to watch the game. Cillizza's comment is akin to saying that the Lakers and the Nuggets for four quarters did "essentially nothing" to run out the clock on the postgame press conference so reporters couldn't ask Kobe about his relationship with Phil Jackson. I've never seen a group of journalists so openly dismissive about a subject they ostensibly exist to cover.

Because every report of this press conference focuses on the attempted extension of the Pelosi-CIA dust-up, you cannot actually find a record of what the House leadership talked about in those first 25 minutes. I assume it tracks closely to this statement about legislation passed in the last week and since the beginning of the new Congress. Here's an excerpt:


CREDIT CARDHOLDERS’ BILL OF RIGHTS, to provide tough new protections for consumers by banning unfair rate increases, abusive fees, and penalties—such as retroactive rate hikes on existing balances and double-cycle billing — giving consumers clear information, and strengthening enforcement.

MILITARY PROCUREMENT REFORM, to crack down on Pentagon waste and cost overruns, which GAO says amount to $296 billion just for the 96 largest weapons systems, by dramatically beefing up oversight of weapons acquisition, promoting greater use of competition, and curbing conflicts of interest.

HELPING FAMILIES SAVE THEIR HOMES ACT, building on the President’s housing initiative, to provide significant incentives to lenders, servicers, and homeowners to work together to modify loans and to avoid foreclosures, which cost families their homes every 13 seconds in America.

FIGHTING MORTGAGE AND CORPORATE FRAUD & CREATING COMMISSION ON CAUSES OF CRISIS, to provide tools for prosecuting the mortgage scams and corporate frauds that contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; and to create an outside commission to examine its causes.

The housing bill had the guts ripped from it with the loss of cram-down, and the credit card bill mirrors closely rules already put in place by the Federal Reserve; this legislation will just accelerate their effective start date. But it would be nice for Americans to actually know what their Congress manages to pass, instead of having those statements of passage ridiculed as "essentially nothing" by the reporters employed, presumably, to inform the public. In fact, reporters could even detail the legislation and separate the facts from the spin, separate from dart-at-a-board predictions of political consequences or positioning. It's a novel idea, I know.

I'd like to pinpoint the moment at which reporters stopped covering policy and began to cover "politics," which they defined as mini-controversies and gossip and what each side of the political divide says about the other (news flash: they're critical!). I have a sense the consequences haven't been all that stellar.

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