Howard Dean On Why Your Stupid Media Covers Theoretical "Fights" All the Time

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 8 2010 12:00 PM

Howard Dean On Why Your Stupid Media Covers Theoretical "Fights" All the Time

One of the best books of the year is Ari Berman's Herding Donkeys , his insider, happily biased history of Howard Dean's tenure running the DNC. I keep returning to this quote in the book from Dean, in which he explained why, in the aggregate, he was happy that the media wrote so many stories about the frothy "fight" between him and Democrats over Rahm Emanuel over fundraising and the "fifty state strategy."

Political writers will rarely write about substance. But they like to write about combat, so every time they did a column, which was once every two weeks, first of all it would end up on the front page, because there wasn't that much going on, and secondly, in order to write about what the fact was about, they had to explain what the fifty-state strategy was, usually somewhere in the first four paragraphs. So on the front page of almost every major paper in the country, every two weeks, was something about the fifty-state strategy.

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Of course, Dean didn't plant any stories like this, and the criticism of Democratic strategy at the time was one way -- there were few if any Dean homers bashing James Carville or Rahm Emanuel off or on the record. But keep this in mind when you see a progressive pundit or PAC "mulling" support for an Obama primary challenge, or a Tea Party spokesman/group "slamming" some Republican. They are throwing bait. Reporters dive for it like goldfish.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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