holdyourbreath.jpgOur pal Deb Howell announced that she’s going to look in depth at the WaPo’s political coverage of the Presidential race:

A perennial complaint is that the media cover politics too much as a horse race instead of reporting more on the candidates’ backgrounds, where they stand on issues and how they would lead the nation. But is it true? I intend to find out — at least at The Post — and report back to readers.

Why was she prompted to make such a public declaration of actually giving a crap about the Post’s political reporting? Because of a very pointed report issued by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center for Politics, Policy and Media. To wit (PDF):

Most citizens, whether they are following the campaign closely or not, have some clear ideas of the kind of coverage they prefer. In a new poll produced for this report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, nearly eight-in-ten Americans (77%) say they want more coverage of “the candidates’ positions on issues” than they are getting. Just 17% say they want less coverage of candidates’ positions.

Smaller majorities also said they want to see more stories about second-tier candidates (55%), about debates (57%) and about sources of campaign money (55%). And another 55% was interested in more coverage of the personal backgrounds and experiences of the candidates….

In other words, the public (as in people who purchase newspapers) would like more substantive and useful information and comparisons of the candidates position on real issues — and less manufactured fluff and nonsense. What was the response of the WaPo’s political editor — which I think is indicative of far too many editors across the newspaper and television spectrum?

The study did not single out any news medium, and Executive Editor Len Downie said he doesn’t think the study’s broad conclusions necessarily apply to The Post because the analysis was done every other day rather than daily, dealt only with front-page stories and took place “well before anyone’s coverage was in high gear.” He also thinks the horse-race complaint is overblown.

Inside the Beltway, the horse race questions are rampant. Why? Because that’s an easy shorthand in a political season that seems to be without end at this point.  Being honest and saying “no one can really predict anything this far out” isn’t something that any self-respecting pundit is willing to say out loud on air or in print, even if it is the god’s honest truth.  So they recite meaningless numbers instead to fill the void.

What would be more helpful for all of us is for the reporters to dig in and do the work on all of the various positions taken by all the candidates in all the public speeches, position papers, debate statements, written articles and books, legislative history, assorted positions of the various advisors and unofficial advisors, and so on and so forth.  In other words, to dig in and do the hard work of reading from the original source material instead of pulling things together from the blast fax political oppo crap. 

Imagine knowing candidate positions with comparisons and in-depth review of:

–How candidates would tackle poverty, health care, mental health access, nutrition issues, and race and class, all of which are far-too-often interrelated policy issues.

– Or a multi-faceted review of foreign policy concerns and proactive concepts for improvement for the long-term contrasted against announced military, fiscal/trade policies, and the effects thereof.

– Or contrasting public statements and written positions on rule of law and constitutional concerns against the written laws and aspects of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, historical information and legal precedents.

– Or positions on labor versus corporate interests: things like wages, benefits, retirement concerns, cost-of-living increases, overhead cost concerns.

– Or environmental versus business versus individual interests, and real world science in terms of candidate positions versus junk science or ideological constructs.   (That could be a whole series of editorials written by folks on all sides of the issues battling it out in the marketplace of ideas all by itself.  Wouldn’t that be enlightening?)

Isn’t this just the sort of information that you would love to have at your fingertips?  Isn’t it the sort of information you SHOULD have to cast your vote rather than just based on slogans and feelings about “who would be best to have a beer with?” 

Repeat after me:  more substance, less fluff.  And then do yourself a favor, and read this from Digby and this from Jamo at Media Matters to see why I’m not exactly holding my breath…

(Photo via kemikore.)