How to cut through the illusions created by the Web and get a clear sense of the political news
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.
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.
, 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.
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.
Now that you know where to get the news, how do you make sense of what it all means? My guess is that most Phoenix readers are like me: since I tend to enjoy reading news and analysis with which I agree, I know more about Democratic than Republican politics. For the sake of balance, then, I rely on the most fair-minded conservative commentators, along with liberal sources. Here are four writers who, when they venture an opinion, base it on hard reporting and historical data rather than seat-of-the-pants impressions:
Peter Brown knows GOP politics better than anyone and writes a column each Monday for Real Clear Politics. He’s a former political reporter who went on to become the editorial-page editor of the Orlando Sentinel and is now assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which has conducted some of the leading polls on the 2008 campaign. Brown isn’t Nostradamus, but I would trust his judgment on such matters as “Is Romney for real?” more than anyone else’s.
For Brown’s counterpart on the Democratic side, read the venerable Tom Edsall, formerly of the Washington Post and now writing for the
, and occasionally the National Journal. This isn’t to say that Edsall doesn’t know the GOP well, because he does. But his trenchant and detailed analyses of where the Democrats are heading stand in stark contrast with the cheerleading coming from too many political analysts. His new book, Building Red America, is worth checking out, too.
Michael Barone, co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, writes a blog that is essential reading for any political junkie. In fact, if you read Barone and nothing else, you’ll be well informed about Campaign 2008. No one knows both the demographics and the political history of the country better than him. On election night 2004, while other analysts were speculating about who might win, Barone knew exactly which counties in Ohio had yet to report and how those counties had voted in the past. Yes, he’s more conservative than most Phoenix readers, but he’s fair and he’s balanced.
Jay Cost was the blogger I thought covered the 2004 campaign most informatively. His Horse Race Blog is being published this time around by Real Clear Politics. He clearly favors the GOP, or at least he did in 2004. And he tends to sound like the political scientist he is. But he’s original, he’s bright, and he looks at political trends differently than most other analysts. I find Cost to be a good read — even though I don’t usually agree with him.
For now, these sources will keep you well informed. And the “Presidential Tote Board” blog? If you want to bookmark that, too, no one will stop you.
RUDY GIULIANI Odds: 2-1
FRED THOMPSON Odds: 5-2
MITT ROMNEY Odds: 5-2
JOHN MCCAIN Odds: 9-1
MIKE HUCKABEE Odds: 200-1
SAM BROWNBACK Odds: 1000-1
TOMMY THOMPSON Odds: 20,000-1
DUNCAN HUNTER Odds: 20,000-1
JAMES GILMORE Odds: 40,000-1
TOM TANCREDO Odds: 75,000-1
RON PAUL Odds: 500,000-1
BARACK OBAMA Odds: 4-3
HILLARY CLINTON Odds: 3-2
JOHN EDWARDS Odds: 7-1
BILL RICHARDSON Odds: 40-1
JOE BIDEN Odds: 65-1
CHRIS DODD Odds: 150-1
DENNIS KUCINICH Odds: 25,000-1
MIKE GRAVEL Odds: one million to 1