Forget losing weight, let’s try and get the political media to do a better job in 2014.
Another year has come and gone, and it hasn’t exactly been the political media’s shining hour. From silly predictions that Obamacare’s website problems would doom not only Obama but all liberalism, to the focus on now debunked accounts of the 2012 attack in Benghazi attack, 2013 has been a year filled with political media blunders. So instead of vowing to lose weight, here are my suggestions of how our chattering classes could do a better job in 2014.
(1) It’s okay to say “I don’t know”: Ever wonder how many ways there are to say “I don’t know?” Well if you’d like a laundry list just check out the political media during a developing story. Figuring out what is happening during chaotic events can be really hard, especially when they are happening on the other side of the world. But rather than trying to bluff their way through an interview or online piece with phrases like “this story is still developing” or “the White House remains tight lipped” reporters should just admit the obvious, and say “I don’t know” when they don’t.
(2) Cut out the grand predictions: Pundits and reporters love to make huge predictions, like claiming that Obamacare’s website problems back in October meant that liberalism is over, and this is profoundly silly. Predicting the future is really hard, and there’s no reason to assume that reporters are any better at doing it any than anyone else. Just cut it out already.
(3) Remember current trends rarely continue: Political scientist Brendan Nyhan made a great point earlier this year about what he calls “the extrapolation fallacy.” Simply put, current trends rarely stay long. So yes Obama’s poll numbers went down after the first presidential debate in 2012, but by late October they were going up again. A big reason why pundits’ grand predictions turn out so wrong is they assume current trends will continue forever, but they don’t, that’s why they’re called current.
(4) Trust the experts more: I get it, being a political reporter or pundit is hard right now. You are in a highly competitive and shrinking industry with thousands of bright eyed graduates trying to get their foot in the door every year and some pretty bad pundits and reporters at the top of the heap who seem like they’ll never go away. I understand, I feel your pain.
But this is no excuse for talking about things you don’t really know about. If you know how Congress works, great! But if you don’t you should find an expert and pick their brain. The country is full of political sciences, policy experts, and scholars who would love to talk to you about their complex and often ignored discipline. In fact you could always just read a book! Think that the key to passing legislation is presidential oratory? Sorry you’re wrong, here’s why. Think party insiders don’t play a big role in modern presidential nomination contests? Wrong again, these folks can set you straight.
(5) Can the dumb words: Cats “pounce” politicians issue statements on things. These statements say things, they do not “blast” or “eviscerate” or result in (and it physically pains me to write this) “pwning” anyone. Now I know what folks in the political media are going to say, “But if I take out the colorful language then my story filled largely with rewritten press releases will be boring!” This is true, but it means that you should stop trying to jazz up rewritten press releases. Go find out what’s actually happening, don’t rework press statements.
Happy New Years Everyone!
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