Via Brendan Nyhan, former Bush communications director Dan Bartlett gives his views on the political press:
TM: Do you think the press corps is responsible for putting that word out—that the president was lying [about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq]?
BARTLETT: I don’t think they’re purposely doing it. Look, I get asked the question all the time: How do you deal with them when they’re all liberal? I’ve found that most of them are not ideologically driven. Do I think that a lot of them don’t agree with the president? No doubt about it. But impact, above all else, is what matters. All they’re worried about is, can I have the front-page byline? Can I lead the evening newscast? And unfortunately, that requires them to not do in-depth studies about President Bush’s health care plan or No Child Left Behind. It’s who’s up, who’s down: Cheney hates Condi, Condi hates Cheney.
This seems like a shockingly reasonable assessment of the situation. One might add that a huge amount of the problem is lock-in. If the incentives facing the people who do this kind of coverage point in the direction of pointless, dumb stories then people who are strongly averse to doing that kind of work tend to get out of the business. Those who succeed are the ones who not only understand the incentive structure but who embrace it, thus further re-inscribing it.