Ezra Klein remarked yesterday on an interesting contrast between the 2000 and 2008 campaigns:
My hunch is that because Obama and McCain keep saying, in speeches, that they disagree, the press will actually report on their disagreements. The media is perfectly happy to be led around. The problem in 2000 was that Bush insisted he was a moderate and the press had no interest in questioning that.
That's true. There were a number of specific issues in 2000, most notably concerning the "patients' bill of rights" and the question of balanced budgets where Bush went out of his way to pretend he and Gore had the same position. The press largely reported Gore's efforts to point out that this was false as a kind of petty hair-splitting. That probably won't happen again this time around.
Unfortunately, however, no force on earth is going to get your average campaign reporter to pay cursory attention to McCain's claims about fiscal policy and realize that his proposal on taxes and spending are nothing but smoke and mirrors. People ought to keep complaining about this sort of thing, but they also ought to recognize that it's part of reality. One thing I never really understood about Paul Krugman's coverage of the Clinton-Obama fight is that he clearly believes that press coverage of candidate personalities is crucial to election outcomes, and that in particular media swooning over Obama's charisma is the key to his political success. But if that's true, then isn't a a good thing that the Democrats went with the charismatic guy? I'm kind of skeptical that press coverage and personae as politically influential as some people think they are, but insofar as they matter they're not going to stop mattering, and smart political movements will pick charismatic leaders.
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