Lies, Lies, and Second-Order Reporting

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 7 2014 5:38 PM

Lies, Lies, and Second-Order Reporting

Paul Krugman and Jay Rosen have both written some nice, researched responses to my Wednesday rant about "perception is reality"-style politics reporting. Krugman's call-back to his 10-year-old observation about the John Kerry campaign is my favorite part of either piece. That year, Kerry ran on a health insurance expansion that would have cost $650 billion, and it got barely any coverage.* "When reports mentioned the Kerry plan at all, it was usually horse race analysis," wrote Krugman. "How it's playing, not what's in it."

This is a problem that, strangely, the expansion of live campaign reporting via video and Twitter hasn't fixed. Think of how much money news organizations spend to make sure they have cameras at every presidential campaign event. OK. Now, think of how quickly CNN or Fox or MSNBC cuts away from the live feed (unless the campaign has promised something new in the speech, like a response to a gaffe or foreign policy crisis) in order to ask for analysis from whatever chuckleheads are in the New York studiousually analysis about how the speech they're not watching is going to play in the real America they're not in. It's all very strange.

Advertisement

That said I'd like to clarify what I was writing about here: "Journalists, in real time, are not the best arbiters of what people will come to believe months later." I was writing (as it says there) about incorrect stories. The idea that the CBO report was warning of 2.5 million fewer jobs, thanks to Obamacare, was wrong, as Paul Ryan pointed out the day after it got traction. If there are actually 2.5 million fewer jobs than there would have been minus Obamacare, come November, it's going to cut like a lightsaber through Democrats.

Similarly, if President Obama had ordered the ATF to let guns cross the border illegally in an Operation Fast and Furious, it would have been tremendously damaging. Because a version of the program predated his administration, it didn't carry beyond the conservative media. That's what I meant, and it's a better guideline than "whether a campaign is successful or not." The Romney campaign scored a few hits on Obama before losing to him. But the fake hits, no matter how much the press speculated about their power, did not sink in with voters.

*Correction, Feb. 10, 2014: This post originally misstated that John Kerry ran for president on a health insurance expansion that would have cost $650. The expansion would have cost $650 billion.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.