I think the press is way too focused on media strategies — both as they say in the business paid media and earned media — and way too little on grassroots organizing and the so-called “ground game” of politics. Interest groups get under-covered tremendously. There’s also kind of moralism in political journalism; that there are good guys and bad guys; that people are being tested on character; that they are being caught doing bad things or are innocent of doing bad things. There’s a tendency not to understand larger forces — to use a kind of “great man theory” of history — and not to understand politics in the way that political scientists generally do: as a realm where interests come to contend and try to run societies either peacefully or not. Interest groups tend to be treated as illegitimate actors. Compromise tends to be undervalued. Legislation tends to be undervalued. Within political coverage, there tends to be too much focus on the executive branch and not enough on the legislative branch.
That’s Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia Journalism School. The interview, with John Wihbey, is here. Lemann also advocates that journalists become statistically literate and learn how to do “literature reviews” so that they understand scholarship on the subjects they’re writing about. His comments dovetail with some of the notions in my piece with Brendan Nyhan on how political science can help journalists.
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