Nicholas Beaudrot points us to this 1996 piece by James Fallows on "Why Americans Hate the Media." It's an excellent read, every bit as relevant today as it was a decade ago. Matt Yglesias says the whole thing is so good that it's hard to focus on any one particular part; I agree, but I'm going to highlight one passage anyway:
The natural instinct of newspapers and TV is to present every public issue as if its "real" meaning were political in the meanest and narrowest sense of that term—the attempt by parties and candidates to gain an advantage over their rivals. Reporters do, of course, write stories about political life in the broader sense and about the substance of issues—the pluses and minuses of diplomatic recognition for Vietnam, the difficulties of holding down the Medicare budget, whether immigrants help or hurt the nation's economic base. But when there is a chance to use these issues as props or raw material for a story about political tactics, most reporters leap at it. It is more fun—and easier—to write about Bill Clinton's "positioning" on the Vietnam issue, or how Newt Gingrich is "handling" the need to cut Medicare, than it is to look into the issues themselves.It is easier and more fun to focus on the game as opposed to the issues; I'm no professional journalist but in my own blogging I know that whenever I'm feeling lazy or rushed, my work gets distinctly hackier. But perhaps more to the point, such a shallow approach -- because it's quicker and easier -- is much better suited to the media driving contemporary American political discourse. Fallows was writing in an era of talk radio and the 24-hour cable news cycle, but I bring this up because the internet -- particularly the blogosphere -- is subject to the very same pressures.