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November 25, 2007

Actions Speak Louder

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Read Kevin Drum, among others, on Mark Halperin's NYT op-ed piece. The only thing I'd add is that unlike most people who observe that the horserace frame isn't a very good one, Halperin is in a position to do something about it. He can refuse to appear on cable & Sunday morning roundtables if the bookers tell him it will focus on political positioning. Or he can ask said programs if they would be willing to change the subject matter. He can push the news outlets he works for—ABC News and Time, according to Wikipedia—to eliminate pure horserace coverage, and only mention it as an aside. And he can try to convince his colleagues to do the same. It won't be easy, given the length of campaigns and the control candidates exert over their press availability But the Internet-induced changes in new outlets and the institutional frustration with the coverage late Clinton and 2003-2004 era Bush administrations should increase the number of journalists willing to look for a new reporting/news-gathering paradigm. Halperin can't be alone on this one.

November 25, 2007 | Permalink


In primary season, horse race coverage kind of makes sense--strategic voting, and all that.

Posted by: Consumatopia | Nov 25, 2007 5:05:32 PM

So far I see a great deal of insight in the commenters (i.e. those at Yglesias') who suggested that this was a way for those like Halperin to back Republicans like Giuliani or Romney.

The Repug's apparently flagging campaigns would otherwise lead the hack pundit to conclude (in their previously cherished 'best campaigners are best leaders' argument) that therefore the Republican leaders were less fit to govern; but since that is an ideologically unacceptable conclusion, the logic must be replaced, rather than the conclusion.

Posted by: El_Cid | Nov 25, 2007 6:15:18 PM

Not only is there too much horserace coverage, the coverage that does exist sucks. In a racing form for an actual horserace there is scads of data that is easily understood at a glance. In a political horserace they offer up national polling numbers even though there is no national poll. Look how much data is in this one page...


...and then think about how little data "horserace" journalism actually presents. Political races are nothing more than a chance for creative writing for the frustrated novelist in most of the hack press. They don't even bother with the policy anymore and the horserace coverage that they provide is incredibly stupid.

Political coverage needs a revolution similar to the Sabremetrics or Moneyball analysis that took place over the last decade and a half, mostly starting with Bill James. No longer is it enough in baseball to defend a player as good because you've observed he's "gritty" and "hustles". You have to show how that translates into runs or it's revealed as BS.

Posted by: joejoejoe | Nov 25, 2007 6:15:55 PM

Is Halperin's favorite running third? That would explain a lot.

Posted by: Stuart Eugene Thiel | Nov 25, 2007 6:44:56 PM

A quick question for Halperin: does Matt Drudge still rule your world?

Posted by: Johnny Pez | Nov 25, 2007 7:02:26 PM

I think the problem is most people have already made up their minds in most elections, particularly the general election. This means we don't want to hear about the details, we want to see if our guy will win. Undecideds are probably less likely to be paying attention, meaning less likely to tune into the morning show or watch the news.

From the point of view of ratings, I have a hard time imagining real stuff beating out the horse race.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 25, 2007 8:25:04 PM

The only real problem with "horse race" coverage is that readers crave it. If they didn't, newspapers wouldn't print it and even if they did we wouldn't care, because people wouldn't read it.

Prediction: the same people who are complaining about "horse race" coverage will at various points throughout the campaign spend their time discussing/debating the ``horse race.'' It's the default mode for political discussion in the election season. So few Americans have the time and/or inclination to inform themselves on policy points, but they want to discuss the presidential race anyway.

It's always a mistake to forget that journalism is part entertainment. For a paper or TV channel to survive, it has to attract readers/viewers. CSPAN and Congressional Quarterly have tiny audiences for a reason.

There's tons of journalism out there about policy from big ideas to minutia, without even a whisper about the horse race. The only trouble is, few people actually read it, listen to it or watch it. The mass market flocks to places that provide horse race coverage.

Here's a thought. Just ignore horse race coverage! No one's making you read it. Seek out alternatives. They are there. You have Internet access. Use it.

Posted by: bunkerbuster | Nov 25, 2007 8:27:18 PM

Mark Halperin gives stupid and shallow people everywhere a bad name.

What is scary is that I know a few high level Washington journalists who think this clown not only has a three digit IQ, but something worthwhile to say.
I, on the other hand, beg to differ.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Nov 25, 2007 8:34:25 PM

Just ignore horse race coverage! No one's making you read it.

What we complain about is not that we personally read too much horse race coverage, but that the voters in general--the people who don't care about politics--end up receiving only horse race coverage. We junkies get what we crave, but those who'd like to know how the candidate's election would change their own lives are left in the dark--a media that cannot make the latter compelling is simply not trying.

Posted by: Consumatopia | Nov 25, 2007 8:43:00 PM

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