Our Lazy-as-Hell Fourth Estate

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 18 2011 9:28 AM

Our Lazy-as-Hell Fourth Estate

Ben Smith and I seem to be obsessed with the same quote in Ryan Lizza's profile of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.).* It comes from Issa's spokesman, Kurt Bardella .

Some people in the press, I think, are just lazy as hell. There are times when I pitch a story and they do it word for word. That’s just embarrassing. They’re adjusting to a time that demands less quality and more quantity. And it works to my advantage most of the time, because I think most reporters have liked me packaging things for them. Most people will opt for what’s easier, so they can move on to the next thing. Reporters are measured by how often their stuff gets on Drudge. It’s a bad way to be, but it’s reality.

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This is not wrong. I've worked at two national newspapers where I've seen at least a part of the pipeline that connects political flacks to reporters. Spokespeople are not just expected to respond to questions from the press; they are expected to sell their bosses and their projects to reporters, to make them interesting. They leak advance copies of bills or open letters; party committees offer first looks at statements or videos captured by trackers. If you see a video of a Senate candidate making a flub on the trail, it is not typically acquired by shoe leather reporting.

I e-mailed Bardella about the quote, which strikes me as purely realistic, and he refined it a bit. "Reporters today are put in this impossible expectation to break every story first, get more hits than everyone else, etc," wrote Bardella. "It diminishes the quality of journalism overall and I truthfully haven't encountered a single reporter who doesn't feel this way in some way."

That's still an analysis of why Issa's investigations scare liberals , even though they don't expect them to expose real corruption. Investigations are news; subpoenas are news; Issa's office knows how to give this news to the right people, to amplify what they're doing.

*The profile itself is mostly about Issa's life before he even became ranking member of Oversight, a re-reporting job on Issa's business career.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics