The Media Whinefest Commences

I have a lot of sympathy for campaign reporters. Their time on the trail can be exhausting, a weird combination of high stress and utter boredom. Every day they have to follow their candidate around to another event that was just like the last one, where he'll say exactly the same things and they have to figure out how to write a story that isn't precisely the same as what they wrote yesterday. And now that their news organizations want them to produce content for a wide array of platforms, it gets even harder.

That being said, reporters can sometimes get seriously whiny. To wit, this story in Politico about how the members of the traveling press corps all think campaign 2012 is a total bummer:

If there is one narrative to anchor what often feels like a plotless 2012 campaign, it is media disillusionment. Reporters feel like both campaigns have decided to run out the clock with limited press avails, distractions, and negative attacks, rather than run confident campaigns with bold policy platforms or lofty notions of hope and change — leaving the media with little to do but grind along covering the latest shallow, sensational item of the day.

"Until the candidates restore joy, it's impossible for us to be joyful," NBC News senior White House correspondent Chuck Todd told POLITICO. "The campaigns are trying so hard to manipulate us, to work the refs, to withhold access. If these candidates were comfortable, the campaign might be joyful to cover." ...

"The fact is, we are under-covering the economy, we are under-covering — but you cover the campaign that is in front of you," Todd, who frequently voices his 2012 frustrations on his MSNBC show, “Daily Rundown,” told conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham in August.

"The watercooler discussion begins with 'Can you believe that guy?,' not 'Will Romney or Obama give me a lower marginal tax rate in 2014?' So the campaigns and the ideological press keep churning it out for a hungry public," Time magazine’s Michael Scherer wrote that same month.

Hey, here's an idea: If you don't like how the campaign is going, change what you're doing. There's no law that says you have to "cover the campaign that's in front of you." If the candidates are giving you nothing but pabulum, try to think creatively. I'm sure you all have ideas about what a better campaign would look like, so make it happen. You think the candidates are ignoring critical issues? Write stories about those issues! You think the candidates aren't being forthcoming enough about their plans for tax reform? Write a few stories about tax reform! You think they're being dishonest about something? Write stories about their dishonesty! If this campaign is a snooze fest, nobody has more power than you to do something about it. You can force the candidates to talk about issues that are being ignored, just by covering those issues. That watercooler discussion? You're the ones who create it! If it begins with "Can you believe that guy?" it's because you wrote a story about yesterday's "gaffe." The gaffe didn't fall from the sky into voters' consciousness. If you decided it wasn't worth talking about, nobody would be talking about it.

Reporters are always reluctant to think of themselves as political actors affecting the outcome of events. We're just observers, they say, reporting on the campaign that's in front of us. But the truth is that they bear just as much responsibility for the tone of a campaign as the candidates do, because they can affect that tone if they choose to. The problem is that they choose not to, and encourage the campaigns' worst instincts. So if the campaign is boring, the press has no one to blame but itself.

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