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Monday, October 17, 2011

Second post on Drum on Filibusters

(this is not a filibuster -- no one has to read all this junk before they can decide something)

Druum advocates reporting votes on cloture as votes on the bill. Basically he opposes "tediously explaining the evolution of the filibuster in every story, something that probably isn't really practical anyway,"

I throw a cow below.

I haven't read all the comments to your first post on Fallows and the Senate 60. I am here to cut and paste my comment to my personal blog. I note that the post was also condemned at Balloon Juice

I don't think the post was poorly expressed. I think you are giving substantively bad advice to journalists. My problem with this post is identical to my problem with the earlier post. You accept the principle that if something is not new, then it is not news. I consider this principle to be inconsistent with responsible journalism. I think a fact is news if it is important and most people don't know it. It is simply a fact that most US adults don't know the rules of the Senate. Therefore, it should be reported as news.

I support "tediously explaining the evolution of the filibuster in every story, something that probably isn't really practical anyway," It certainly is practical. Yes it would cost ink and paper, but the space could be found by removing some horse raice, political strategy, and perceptions of public perceptions garbage. Also the Washington Post is not People or Playboy. Entertaining the reader is not supposed to be its only goal.

I will give an example of the sort of journalism which I want. Bakc in the 80s a poll showed that a small fraction of US adults knew that the Reagan administration supported the government in El Salvador and the rebels in Nicaragua. The New York Times then began writing about "the US supported government of El Salvador" and "the US supported contra rebels in Nicaraugua". The second phrase slid over the detail that, some years, such support was banned by Congress (it identified the US government with the Reagan administration). But the point is that a fact which should be but wasn't well known was reported again and again.

I think the problem with both posts is that you assume that an undesirable feature of journalism is how things must be. So you just accept the journalistic attention span such that an fact, however important it might be, is not reported and reported and reported for years until the public knows it.
The WaPo was certainly following the standard norms of journalism wihen it failed to report that the latest Republican filibuster was one more example of extraordinary and (I think) unprecedented obstructionism. But your commenters object to those standard norms of journalism. Replying that journalism we advocate would be "tedious" just doesn't do it. nor does "probably not practical." If it is not practical, you are right, but you present no evidence for your claim nor any sign of careful thought. You just note that that is not the way it is done. But we argued that it is the way it should be done. This post does not reply to our argument. It doesn't even engage our argument.

But enough about you. I think the posts are related to four problems with US journalism (except for that exception). Journalists are afraid of irritating readers by patrnonizing them, journalists are out of touch with normal people who follow the news only casually, journalists are aiming to impress other journalists by telling the other journalists something they don't know, and journalists assume that, while the general public is ignorant, their readers are well informed.

I consider the fourth. Here I note that newspapers can and should and don't test the idea that their readers are generally well informed already by polling their subscribers asking about beliefs on matters of fact.n Heeyyyy Mother Jones could do that. They could at least look up Pew polls which show they are wrong (maybe not if they work at the WaPo). But more importantly, they could remind their readers that lots of people don't know the facts and give them water cooler amunition. Most people learn about public affairs from friends. Journalists should consider the way in which their repeatedly reporting a fact makes it more likely that their well informed readers will mention it to people who don't read newspapers.

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