One of the most basic ways in which the nation’s news media fail you is by regularly speculating about the likely political impact of a given situation rather than giving you the information you need to reach an informed opinion of the underlying issues. That is to say: By telling you what they think you will think, rather than giving you factual information about which you should think.
There is no merit to this approach whatsoever. It’s the journalism equivalent of feeding your children Kit Kat bars and RC Cola for dinner. It gives us none of what we need and too much of what we don’t.
Here’s as clear an example as you’ll ever see: In 2011, Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza praised Texas Governor Rick Perry for giving a “a very strong answer on the death penalty” during a Republican presidential primary debate. Cillizza had nothing substantive to say about Perry’s death penalty comments, he just asserted that Perry’s answer was likely to be politically effective. This despite the fact that by the time of the debate, it had long been established that Perry had likely condemned an innocent man to death. (More on the case in today’s New York Times.)
So, in writing about Rick Perry talking about the death penalty, Chris Cillizza had a choice. He could tell his readers that scientific evidence indicated that Rick Perry had almost certainly put an innocent man to death -- information that is undeniably useful to a voter assessing Perry’s fitness for office. Or Cillizza could simply tell readers that Perry’s comments about the death penalty were “very strong” -- a guess at the political efficacy of Perry’s comments that does nothing to help readers assess Perry’s fitness for office.
Cillizza chose the second option -- the one that withheld important information from his readers, giving them utterly useless prognostication instead. He gave them a Kit Kat bar. It’s a feckless approach to journalism that treats questions of life and death as some sort of parlor game in which all that matters is the timbre of a candidate’s voice.