Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

Why the Media’s Only Leverage Is To Ignore the Campaigns Altogether
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Sept. 4 2012 3:18 PM

Dispatches From the Democratic National Convention

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If we want the election we deserve, then journalists need to use some tough love.

Obama coin banks are for sale near the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Obama coin banks are for sale near the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012 on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.

I'm sitting with Weigel in the patio of the CNN Grill pop-up restaurant, where there's Wi-Fi and a perch offering a vista of delegates and donors in the foreground and a horizon of protesters behind them. During these convention weeks, I sense my normally fine-tuned culinary preferences shifting because of logistical exigency. At the moment, my three favorite cuisines are Tex-Mex, sushi, and CNN.

Sasha Issenberg Sasha Issenberg

Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.

John, I’m glad you invited us to litigate whether this election does, in fact, suck as much as all the meta-coverage seems to have now concluded. I wonder if part of this may be a good time to disassociate the words election and campaign, two words that we often use interchangeably but that political scientists have been wise enough to separate. I think you both have been right to note the ways in which this is a big, important, interesting election: real differences, high stakes. But the campaigns are really dreary in all the ways you and others have itemized.

I think what you’re suggesting, John, is effectively that we go ahead and cover the election and not the campaigns. Your hope is that if we cover the election, campaigns will be forced to come around and talk about the stuff we think they ought to address. But we have a hard enough time as it is getting basic answers out of these candidates or their staffs. Romney, in particular, has blithely disregarded the widely accepted standard that campaigns at least go through the motions of presenting an agenda with some detail.

Our only leverage is to effectively stop covering the vapid speeches and dishonest ads and silly Twitter spats until the campaigns give us the election we deserve. Can we really stick to a tough-love approach if it means withholding coverage of someone who stands a good shot of becoming president of the United States in a few months?

More from me on campaign data-gathering on the streets of Charlotte later.

Sasha