To read the politics beat this past week, you’d think something really big took place when New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent. Bloomberg’s move triggered an avalanche of speculation about what his change of affiliation meant and how he might fare as a presidential candidate. But that’s all it was — speculation. After all, no one knows if Bloomberg will even run, much less how he would fare in a heated campaign, and they won’t until it’s clear who the Democratic and Republican nominees will be. That’s at least eight long months away.
Thanks to the Web, the sheer volume and intensity of coverage devoted to Bloomberg, in fact, created the illusion of the story’s significance: more doesn’t mean better. The Web has created a 24-hour demand for news, even though little may be going on. That encourages frequent, wild conjecture, making political reporting far too opinion-based and insufficiently concerned with the facts.
Even worse, the Web has made political journalism less diverse. This claim may seem counterintuitive given the multiplicity of voices on the Web. But pack journalism has never been more prevalent. If one pundit or blogger writes that John McCain is fading, within minutes everyone is writing that McCain is fading. Then someone writes the opposite — often just to get noticed — and, as if on command, the entire pack reverses itself.
What’s a serious political junkie to do? Read anything you want, of course. But to stay truly informed about Campaign 2008, you can count on a few written sources to supply a steady hand.
One clear advantage offered by the Web is that anyone can stay as up-to-date on the news as campaign insiders. Four good sources will e-mail you summaries of the day’s best national stories, and some will send you bulletins when news breaks:
Real Clear Politics serves as a sort of clearinghouse of the best political opinion and reporting in the country. IF you want to know how every Iowa or New Hampshire poll has rated the candidates, or get the transcripts of the major political TV shows, it’s all here.
The Politico is a new political paper out of Washington — staffed with veteran political reporters, some from the Washington Post. It’s coverage of the debates has so far been especially noteworthy.
Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, the product of the co-author of a book on political management (You Won — Now What?), tend to focus more on news than Real Clear Politics does. And its news summary is the most comprehensive of this group.
ABC News’ The Note is a compendium of key news and opinion stories of the day. The Note focuses on the establishment papers — the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and so on — so it tends to miss a fair amount, but it’s a good encapsulation of what the mainstream press considers important. A bonus: Rick Klein, formerly of the Boston Globe, writes a daily column in the afternoon, usually commenting on the main story of the day.