Primary results muddle

 A lot of nonsense has been written about Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas. Some journalists says it’s good news for Republicans. Some say good news for Dems. Some say it sends a clear message about what will happen in the fall midterm elections. My own opinion is that journalists shouldn’t jump to any conclusions. Predicting what voters will do next November is like predicting what the weather will be like next November. Who knows? Journalists will be closer to the truth when they avoid drawing conclusions themselves. They should just state the facts, put the results in context, and quote respected experts on what they think it means, making sure to include a diversity of views. As for next November, I suspect that Robert Reich is right that the economy will still be a major factor, and I base that on historical evidence that high unemployment rates and recessions tend to hurt the party in power. And I agree with Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post that journalists are making too much out of what is less of a clear outcome and more of a muddle. In a confusing situation we’re often eager, even desperate, for someone to give us explanations and point to broad sweeping trends that can predict the future. But sometimes there aren’t any clear guidelines for the future, and that is the truth that journalists should report. And perhaps journalists should spend less time on meaningless election punditry and more time focusing attention on the far more important story that meaningful Wall Street reform is stalled in Congress.



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4 responses to “Primary results muddle

  1. Consumers of journalism often want to know what journalists think will happen in the future, whether it’s in U.S. elections or in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Truth is, journalists don’t have crystal balls, and are supposed to write about what HAS happened, not what WILL happen. But the most useful kind of journalism is the kind that helps consumers connect the dots themselves, pointing to recent and historical trends, to outside forces which could impact events, and to efforts by interested parties to influence the way things will turn out.

  2. Celeste Whiting

    Speculation about what might happen too often turns journalism into infotainment, just another reality show blurring the lines. The “election as horse race” narrative will always deliver viewers and readers and internet traffic. However, authentically engaged citizens need accurate information and reporting about government and corporations, so that they can respond to their world with discernment and integrity. Consumers exist to be delivered to advertisers.

  3. Liz Barry

    As usual, Tony is drawing our attention to an important subtlety in the role of reporters and the media. Too often we don’t recognize that we’ve stepped over the line until it is too late. I have recently been alarmed at how often reporters, especially foreign news correspondents, are now interviewed as if they were the sources of news stories. It seems like this trend started during major crises where journalists were the only ones around who could share first hand accounts of events. Now, it is so common, I wonder if anyone even thinks twice about whether it is appropriate.

  4. John Masson

    First of all, Tony, you’re absolutely right about this. And while I hate to carpet-blame the cable news channels (especially in this particular forum!), in a lot of ways this crystal-ball journalism is another unfortunate side-effect of the relentless, voracious news cycle the cable guys created. I mean, we’ve got galactic amounts of space to fill on cable (and now of course on the web), and this kind of speculative journalism is what a lot of it is filled with (when it’s not filled with guys in suits yelling at each other). And even though newshole is shrinking in the print world, I think competitive pressure can force print journalists to respond to junk electronic news with junk prognostication of their own.

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