Our Lazy-as-Hell Fourth Estate

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.

Advertisement

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 Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Launching a Serious Run at Apple and Samsung

Television

Slim Pickings at the Network TV Bazaar

Three talented actresses in three terrible shows.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.