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'There's no serious effort to clarify issues'

DISCUSSIONS | May 25, 2006

Jonathan Z. Larsen

1980 Nieman fellow; free-lance writer, editorial board chairman of OnEarth Magazine

Political reporters seem determined to cover politics much the same way they cover sports. It is all about the process, the game, if you will, with little and often no reporting or insight in the underlining issues being discussed. And so we get he-said, she-said political coverage of the messages from both partisan camps, with little attempt to give the reader a sense of who is telling the truth. Much political strategy today seems designed precisely to create such confusion in the minds of the voters, with political operatives like Karl Rove relying on the fact that no serious attempt will be made to clarify the issues or attempt to find the truth.

In part reporters no longer have the background to know or write the truth. The day of the beat reporter, with major papers staffing reporters to cover almost every federal department, is long dead. Those reporters knew the truth, but even then were often constrained from telling it for fears of losing access within the agencies they were covering. Now reporters tend to be generalists, covering this party or that, or this candidate or that, and with little time to

dig into one issue before the conversation has moved on to a new issue. If a candidate is not deemed to have sufficient standing in the polls, even early in political contests, it becomes almost impossible to get any coverage at all, other than of the Don Quixote variety—why is the candidate running, how soon will he or she drop out.

As David Brock has written, the Republicans have been so successful in creating the myth of the liberal media (it was a reality, but a long time ago), that they have guilt-tripped journalists into being even handed (print my clearly fallacious, ad-hominem quote next to my opponent's considered and factual statement of the issue) when they should not be.

For instance, in the 2004 presidential campaign, the indisputable facts that John Kerry had served in Vietnam, had been involved in intense combat, had been wounded three times, and was a decorated war veteran, seemed completely lost amidst charges that his decorations were not all that deserved, that his wounds were not that severe and that his actual time in combat over the course of years of military service was very limited.

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