How does political journalism affect voters?
Matt Bai is a political reporter and staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, Bai graduated from Tufts in 1990 and received a Masters from the Columbia School of Journalism in 1994. Bai began his reporting career at the Boston Globe's metro desk; he spent five years as a national correspondent for Newsweek before coming to the Times in 2002. Bai has covered all sorts of national news: everything from the Columbine shootings to John Glenn's last space voyage to Mike Bloomberg's mayoral campaign. In recent years, Bai has focused primarily on intra-Democratic Party politics. He is the author of The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, an analysis of the progressive movement. Bai's work has also appeared in both the 2005 and 2006 editions of The Best American Political Writing. Matt covered the 2008 presidential race for the New York Times Magazine.
Matt Bai: Well I’m not sure it’s ever been any different – or at least not in modern history. I mean Theodore White started writing “The Making of the President” series in 1960. And Theodore White’s book were all …. There was no substance in them at all. And . . . and you know generations have improved upon that model. And it’s been a long time since we’ve spent a long time in substance. And look, let’s not . . . And I think it’s fair not to blame the media for this entirely. I mean the business of politics has become what we call the permanent campaign, right? I mean it’s . . . There’s a lot less governing going on. There’s a lot less . . . This is happening for a lot of reasons. The TV age has a lot to do with it – the proliferation of different kinds of media. But also the moment we’re living in. Look it’s hard to find answers to some of these problems. It’s hard to tell difficult truths. It’s much easier to resort to gamesmanship. It’s much easier to fix your language than it is to fix Bridgeport. You know it’s much easier not to think about the transition going on when the answers you have might be unpopular or wrong, or might do more harm than good. And so you know we have a lack of visionary leadership. And into that void comes a tremendous amount of tactical sort of gamesmanship, atmospheric, you know developments that have very little to do with the substance of governing. And the media does what the media does, which is covers what it sees. So I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. And I think it does change . . . You know I don’t wanna take the responsibility off the media, because there’s certainly a lot of us who are doing, I think, very substantive journalism. And that really amounts to asking . . . constantly asking a set of questions that people don’t really wanna answer, which is what I do much of my time and in much of writing. I always say it’s not our job to have answers. It’s our job to ask the right questions. And we ask them again, and again, and again. But I think we’re also . . . You know we’re also waiting for real leadership. I think we’re waiting for someone in the political process to step up and show us the way so we can have a more . . . more relevant, more profitable debate, and a more productive debate about where the country is going than the one we’ve been having for the last, you know, 25, 30 years. And you know I frankly think that takes a generational change.
Recorded on: 12/13/07
Political journalism cannot be blamed for political outcome.
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