Back in 2009, Tucker Carlson gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he told the crowd that what the right needed was more real journalism. He even pointed out that, as much as they hate The New York Times, that paper has people who do actual reporting and care about accurately relaying facts, and conservatives ought to try the same thing. He was booed resoundingly. Then Carlson founded the Daily Caller, which is kind of like giving a speech to a group of overweight people about the importance of cooking moderately sized meals filled with vegetables at home, then saying, "Let's go to McDonald's—Big Macs are on me!"
Conservatives aren't wrong when they say most journalists are liberals. That isn't because of a conspiracy to keep out conservatives, any more than the fact that most stock brokers are conservatives is a result of a Wall Street conspiracy to keep out liberals. It's primarily because of the kind of people who are attracted to that kind of work. Journalists tend to be comfortable with ambiguity, suspicious of powerful institutions, and many other things conservatives aren't. Acknowledging that most reporters are liberals isn't the same thing as saying the news has a liberal bias, however. In any case, it's unusual to see a conservative reporter win universal praise for his reporting, if for no other reason than that there aren't that many conservatives who do straight journalism. Which brings us to Robert Costa, the National Review reporter who became the undisputed media star of the government shutdown. Everyone who's anyone found themselves following Costa on Twitter, reading his blog posts, and using him to figure out what was going on. People started writing profiles of him. He got invited to an off-the-record session with the President. How did Costa do it?
I think I've figured it out. You see, reporters have these things called "beats," whereby they cover a particular subject extensively, and wind up learning a lot about it. For instance, our own Monica Potts has done more extraordinary reporting about the issue of poverty in the last few years than probably any journalist in America. If it were to happen that there was suddenly some kind of political crisis during which everybody was talking about poverty (I know, I know), zillions of people would start following Monica on Twitter, she'd be on Meet the Press, and other magazines would publish profiles of her. It just happened that this crisis hinged to a great degree on the internal dynamics of the Republican caucus in the House, and that's part of Costa's beat. And because he writes for a conservative magazine, GOP members and staff trust him and were willing to talk to him.
Not that it was easy. Costa is without question an excellent reporter, and he got information that even other conservatives weren't getting. But real shoe-leather reporters are few and far enough between on the right that Costa is, if not unique, at least unusual. So when the fate of the entire world seemed to hinge on what Ted Cruz told a few dingbat Tea Partiers in a clandestine meeting in the basement of a Capitol Hill restaurant, Costa was the only one in the media who could explain it to everyone else.
The lesson for the right should be this: journalism is a good thing! Even if Costa's reporting didn't aid the conservative cause in the short run, it helped everybody, no matter what their ideology, understand what was going on. It's something they should do more of.
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