...the people in the national press actually share an ideology: the religion of savviness. Since it differs from both liberal ideology and conservative ideology and from political thought itself, savviness often eludes description, or even recognition as a set of beliefs. That's why I keep my running notebook. I'm trying to teach readers how to "see" the savvy.
In a PressThink post a few years ago, I defined it this way:
Savviness! Deep down, that's what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in-- their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including operators like Karl Rove.) In politics, they believe, it's better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It's better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere or humane.
Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, "with it," and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it.
To the people inside it, savviness is not a cult. It is not a professional church or "belief system." It's not really an object fit for contemplation at all. But they would say that political journalists need to be savvy observers because in politics the unsavvy are hapless, clueless, deluded, clownish, or in some cases extreme. They get run over: easily. They get disappointed: needlessly. They get angry--fruitlessly--because they don't know how things work in practical terms.
The savvy do know how things work inside the game of politics, and it is this knowledge they try to wield in argument.... instead of argument. In this sense savviness as the church practices it is the exemption from the political that believers think will come to them because they are journalists striving only to report on politics or conduct analysis, not to "win" within the contest as it stands.
Prohibited from joining in political struggles, dedicated to observing what is, regardless of whether it ought to be, the savvy believe that these disciplines afford them a special view of the arena, cured of excess sentiment, useless passon, ideological certitude and other defects of vision that players in the system routinely exhibit. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, "the savvy don't say: I have a better argument than you... They say: I am closer to reality than you. And more mature."
Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his or her observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sghted, but as practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, and dreamy. This is part of what's so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog realism to itself.