The Main Item You Should Read About the GOP's Ames 'Straw Poll'

It's this one, from Meta War Room, about the "results" we'll get from Iowa this weekend and the light they shed on the race for the Republican nomination and America's larger political dramas.

Read the whole thing, but here is the gist (italics added):

>>Inevitably, news organizations treat this completely meaningless gathering (its results count for nothing) as a major development in the campaign... Moreover, the poll brings out several bad practices that continually infect the way campaigns are waged and covered in America:

1) Sports-writing. This is a term we use to describe the brand of political reporting that treats presidential elections no differently from any other contests, as if they're more or less boxing matches....

2) Predicting. One of the most baffling elements of political coverage in this country is the seemingly fetishistic desire to predict outcomes of things... It's hard to understand what would be compromised if the reporters simply waited a few days to see how much the candidate raised, rather than guess it before-hand with no guarantee of accuracy. But the Ames predicting game has been going on for a month....

3)  Pretending Fake Things Are Important. Campaigns are full of contrived "moments" and "events" that we're told are really important but tell us absolutely nothing about what kind of president a candidate would be....

 So, when you're being inundated in the coming days with all sorts of noise about how important and revealing the straw poll is -- and how so-and-so has so much "momentum" now, while so-and-so now has to drop out -- it's worth remembering that the event doesn't predict anything, predicting things is a waste of time anyway unless you're a gambler, and straw poll performances don't help anyone make judgments about what kind of president a candidate will be. <<

Other than that, it's a great and important event, worthy of all the attention it will get.
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Disclosure: the item quotes my book Breaking the News, which made similar arguments about campaign coverage back in an earlier and more innocent era, so be forewarned. But I was nodding along in agreement before I got to that part. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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