Political Journalism: Polls, Pundits and Partisanship

By Pruden, Wesley | Insight on the News, September 21, 1992 | Go to article overview
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Political Journalism: Polls, Pundits and Partisanship


Pruden, Wesley, Insight on the News


George Bush has had his convention and is getting his bounce, though it isn't at all clear how big the bounce will end up being, just as it isn't clear what the mishmash of public opinion polls is all about.

Some polls are better than others, but none of them is as good as a solid story, carefully reported, on what's really going on in a political campaign. This is the task that a declining number of journalists -- notably including "anchors" and "correspondents" and assorted other electronic pinheads and ether-borne airbags -- have either the stomach or skill to do.

Reporting is hard work. Gassing is not, and gasbaggery is what much of modern journalism, led by television journalism, is about. Conservatives who complain of liberal bias are complaining about the wrong offense. The worst offense of the media is not bias, but shoddy workmanship.

The typical political story, particularly on television but increasingly in newspapers as well, must include three elements: a few incoherent snatches of what a politician says, followed by three paragraphs of polling data (it need not be fresh or even relevant) and three paragraphs of analysis by a political science professor from a nearby community college stating the obvious.

Ronald Reagan's valedictory on opening night to the Republican National Convention was, as theater as well as politics, a special moment. The Gipper struck just the right note, "a stroll down memory lane," tied to biting observations on the Democratic ticket, laced with the kind of memorably caustic lines that marked the Great Communicator at his best.

But many journalists in Houston were not content to let the Gipper have his say, to let the audience love it or leave it. The remarks were analyzed with tedious attention to the inane ("the former president tried to breathe life into the faltering George Bush campaign") and to the irrelevant ("some observers noted that recent polls show that Ronald Reagan is not as popular as he once was") and the obligatory remarks from the poli-sci prof that "only time will tell whether the former president actually helped the ticket."

As Dave Barry might say, I am not making this up.

The unrelieved pessimistic tone of the reporting from Houston was in part the work of Republicans themselves. Houston is a nice town with lots of friendly people, but it's a lousy convention city.

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