How to Lose Beltway Friends and Alienate Politicians

Fallows picks up this great video of Norah O'Donnell actually calling a spade a spade in this interview with Paul Ryan. I think he's on to something with this:


It is hard for political journalists to know enough about the substance of obscure budget votes to go up against a famed "numbers wonk" from the Budget Committee; harder still for a journalist to be sure enough of their knowledge, in the real-time pressure of live TV, to say "no, that's not right" to a national figure; and perhaps hardest of all for a mainstream network correspondent to take on the responsibility of saying, "This does not seem true," rather than just finding some credentialed "critic" to quote to that effect. I've mentioned before some signs of the mainstream media groping to figure out its role in the "post-truth" era. This is an encouraging sign.

Yeah. There are objectionable cases -- like refusing to call torture what it is, because our government is doing it. And then there is the more common variety of false equivalency that just comes from ignorance. I think it was Chris Hayes who pointed this out, but one of the unfortunate things about the rise of "fact-checkers" is that it's really let reporters off the hook. I think we've actually made some headway since the days of headlines like "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him."

But I wonder if the whole system of having "politics" reporters should be rethought. If you don't have time to learn the ins and outs of the budget, maybe you should have staffers in your newsroom who do. Or maybe the press conference on health care shouldn't just be covered by the politics reporter, but also by someone who's made housing or healthcare their beat.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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