Weekend Reading: Robert Allen on Japan

Ben Smith disputes the Sokratic doctrine that "nobody does evil knowingly" by pointing to himself as a counterexample. Yet, somehow, he ends his piece by quoting an—anonymous—source: “You almost long for the days when it was a game.” It never was a game, Ben. Policy differences were always large and important. Trying to gain energy to further empower parasitic plutocracy from stoking the ethno-cultural fears of easily-grifted morons has been a major story in American politics since at least the Republican Party's Goldwater turn—and Ben Smith and company worked hard to make sure that that story was always outshouted by horse-race trivialities: Ben Smith: I Helped Create Insider Political Journalism. Now It's Time For It To Go Away: "My colleague Jonathan Martin’s and my blogs were actually illustrated with on-the-nose pen-and-ink caricatures of ourselves sitting on a wooden fence watching a literal horse race...

...I... engaged in endless arguments with press critics like Jay Rosen—he once called me “the most annoying reporter on the campaign beat”—about this kind of journalism. My defense was a good one, I still think: I was reporting true facts about things that happened, for an audience who cared.... At its best it was genuinely revelatory, as my old boss John Harris argues, the intense crucible of a political campaign revealing who the candidates really are.... It was perhaps not totally unreasonable to see players in blue and red shirts—particularly for the relatively small audience.... The stakes were, of course, to be far higher for millions of Iraqis.... They were far higher for many Americans, too, particularly the victims of a consensus on race and policing....

New outlets, including BuzzFeed News, have been moving away from the conventions of 2000s insider reporting for years. Now that kind of coverage finds itself without defenders—even as much of the print and television media continues to produce reams of it. Mark Halperin, who helped create the cult of the inside with a newsletter called The Note and perfected it with the Game Change franchise, was forced out of the business over allegations that he had used his power to sexually harass and assault women that track, in an indirect way, with criticism of his journalism. He depicted politics as “the kind that masked aristocrats played to entertain themselves at 19th-century parties: Everyone was both pawn and player, engaged in a set of arcane maneuvers to win an empty jackpot that ultimately meant nothing of true importance,” Eve Fairbanks wrote for us recently. Chris Cillizza... is at pains these days to point out that he no longer actually produces the goofy, it’s-all-a-game coverage that still gets him mocked.... “Nobody cares about that stuff anymore—but they never should have,” says Chuck Todd, who edited the old insider tip-sheet (and fax!) The Hotline before going on to host Meet the Press. Indeed, those qualms about the old style are now nearly universal among reporters of my generation....

This leaves open the question of what comes next.... Coverage of movement politics allows your audience to taste the appeal of the Kool-Aid.... Policy differences are deep and real, and reporters’ jobs are to cast them into relief.... And the consequences of Trump’s rhetoric and his policy choices loom over everything.... The insider style doesn’t just have inertia on its side, though. There’s also a practical, commercial hunger on television for some kind of voice in the vanished center.... The one thing that’s clear is that the new political journalism has to be built for a moment of crisis, not stability.... The political journalism of that crisis is no longer a special genre of journalism, but instead the core of the profession: getting to the truth, explaining the world, and often telling stories with a clear right and wrong.

And yet, perhaps there’s reason to be nostalgic for that amoral, tactical coverage of American politics. When I spoke the other day to one of the key figures of the old school, who declined to be quoted by name, he sounded a little wistful: “You almost long for the days when it was a game.”


#shouldread

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