A nice piece on how political coverage gets sucked onto the nihilism of race-calling.
HT Brad Delong: George Packer: The Top of Our Game:
David Broder had a devastatingly unremarkable assessment of Sarah Palin in the Post the other day. Her speech at the Tea Party convention in Nashville showed off a public figure at the top of her gamea politician who knows who she is and how to sell herself…. Broder wasnt analyzing Palins positions or accusations, or the truth or falsehood of her claims, or even the nature of the emotions that she appeals to. He was reviewing a performance and giving it the thumbs up, using the familiar terminology of political journalism. This has been so characteristic of the coverage of politics for so long that it doesnt seem in the least bit odd…. It would be strange if the Timess coverage of the financial crisis, which has been stellar, focussed entirely on things like Richard Fulds handling of his P.R. problems while Lehman was going down. And it would be strange if the papers coverage of Afghanistan, which has also been stellar, focussed entirely on things like Hamid Karzais use of traditional Pashtun rhetoric in his effort to ride the wave of public anger at the Americans. Imagine Karzais recent inaugural address as covered by a Washington journalist:
Speaking at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr. Karzai showed himself to be at the top of his game. He skillfully co-opted his Pashtun base while making a powerful appeal to the technocrats who have lately been disappointed in him, and at the same time he reassured the Afghan public that his patience with civilian casualties is wearing thin. A palace insider, who asked for anonymity in order to be able to speak candidly, said, If Karzai can continue to signal the West that he is concerned about corruption without alienating his warlord allies, he will likely be able to defuse the perception of a weak leader and regain his image as a unifying figure who can play the role of both modernizer and nationalist. Still, the palace insider acknowledged, tensions remain within Mr. Karzais own inner circle. At one point during the swearing-in ceremony, observers noted that Mohammad Hanif Atmar, his interior minister, seemed to ignore the greeting of Amrullah Saleh, the intelligence chief. The two have been rumored to be at odds ever since last years controversial election. A palace spokesman, speaking on background, denied that the incident had any significance. The sun was in Hanifs eyesthats it, the spokesman said.
A war or an economic collapse has a reality apart from perceptions, which imposes a pressure on reporters to find it. But for some reason, American political coverage is exempt…. [A]s an exercise in accountability, political journalists should ask themselves from time to time: Would I write this about a war, or a depression? In the same vein, a government official once told me that the best way to cover Washington is as a foreign capitalas Baghdad, or Kabul.