Here is an interesting and dare I say important article about the media's role in the Sherrod scandal by John Harris and Jim VandeHei at Politico. Race was a factor in what happened, self-evidently: in this case, specifically, sensitivity to the charge of racism. (See Jonathan Chait on the White House's terror of being accused of favoring blacks over whites.) Polarization was part of it too-- but, say Harris and VandeHei, multiplied by a new force.
What is different these days is the emergence of an industry -- a political-media complex -- for which ideological conflict is central to the business model.
In other words, anger sells.
Politico's leaders declare an interest:
At POLITICO, we have an unusual vantage point on this new reality. We are both an enabler (in the eyes of some critics) of the deterioration of political discourse, and a target of it (as we try to defend our values as neutral journalists amid constant criticism from activists who think we fail at neutrality or are disdainful of the goal in the first place).
There is some truth on both counts. Like all news sites, we are aware that conflict clicks. More traffic comes from an item on Sarah Palin's "refudiation" faux pas than from our hundreds of stories on the complexities of health care reform or Wall Street regulation. We were slow to write about the initial charge of racism against Sherrod -- but quick as anyone else to write about the political fallout. Over the past 36 hours, articles on Breitbart, Sherrod and Tucker Carlson (whose conservative Daily Caller broke the story about journalists taking partisan sides on JournoList) have shared space atop our site with more "substantive" stories on the failed climate bill and the charges against Charlie Rangel.
(Note the scare quotes round "substantive". These days an apology is owed if you make that claim.)