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(An early conclusion: while we were late to understand how angry white voters were, a perhaps even more serious lapse was in failing to recognize how many disaffected Democrats there were who would stay home rather than support their party’s flawed candidate.) But journalistic handwringing aside, I still think reporting about American politics is better in many respects than it’s ever been.I have a different and more existential fear today about the future of independent journalism and its role in our democracy. Because the media scandal of 2016 isn’t so much about what reporters failed to tell the American public; it’s about what they did report on, and the fact that it didn’t seem to matter.
The truth is that coverage of American politics, and the capital that revolves around it, is in many ways much better now than ever before—faster, sharper, and far more sophisticated.
There are great new digital news organizations for politics and policy obsessives, political science wonks, and national security geeks.
Yes, we are now being accused—and accusing ourselves—of exactly the sort of smug, inside-the-Beltway myopia we thought we were getting rid of with the advent of all these new platforms.
I’m as angry as everybody else at the catastrophic failure of those fancy election-forecasting models that had us expecting an 85 percent or even a ridiculous 98 percent—thanks Huffington Post! All that breathless cable coverage of Trump’s Twitter wars and the live shots of his plane landing on the tarmac didn’t help either.
For the last two decades, the rules of political reporting have been blown up. Not for me the mourning over the dismantling of the old order, all those lamentations about the lost golden era of print newspapers thudding on doorsteps and the sage evening news anchors reporting back to the nation on their White House briefings.
Because, let’s face it: too much of Washington journalism in the celebrated good old days was an old boys’ club, and so was politics—they were smug, insular, often narrow-minded, and invariably convinced of their own rightness.Of course, there’s always been a fair measure of cynicism—and more than a bit of demagoguery—in American politics and among those who cover it, too.But I’ve come to believe that 2016 is not just another skirmish in the eternal politicians versus the press tug of war.It may not have been a monopoly, but it was something pretty close.Which was why I felt lucky to have landed at a newspaper that was an early harbinger of the media revolution to come.My dad, an early and proud media disruptor himself since the days when he and my mother founded ’s business section in the spring of 1987.A sort of old-fashioned community bulletin board for Capitol Hill, it had been around for decades but had just been bought for 0,000 by Arthur Levitt, chairman of the American Stock Exchange.This was a pretty radical departure for a quirky tabloid that had been launched by a Hill aide named Sidney Yudain just as the Mc Carthy era was ending in the 1950s.By the ‘80s, his was celebrating a Congress that hardly existed anymore, a hoary institution of eating clubs with silly names, of boarding houses on the Hill where members of both parties holed up without their families while Congress was in session.To help us understand it all, there were choices, but not that many: three TV networks that mattered, ABC, CBS, and NBC; two papers for serious journalism, , they preached journalistic “objectivity” and spoke with authority when they pronounced on the day’s developments—but not always with the depth and expertise that real competition or deep specialization might have provided. And because it was such a small in-crowd, they were readily subject to manipulation; the big media crisis of the Reagan era was all about the ease with which the journalists could be spun or otherwise coopted into the Hollywood-produced story line coming out of Reagan’s media savvy White House, which understood that a good picture was worth more than thousands of words, no matter how hard-hitting.Eventually, I came to think of the major media outlets of that era as something very similar to the big suburban shopping malls we flocked to in the age of shoulder pads and supply-side economics: We could choose among Kmart and Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue as our budgets and tastes allowed, but in the end the media were all essentially department stores, selling us sports and stock tables and foreign news alongside our politics, whether we wanted them or not.