The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World

By Kathleen Hall Jamieson; Paul Waldman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Press as Amateur
Psychologist, Part I

The notion that reporters should hold the powerful accountable is at the core of contemporary journalism. “Anyone tempted to abuse power looks over his or her shoulder to see if someone else is watching. Ideally, there should be a reporter in the rearview mirror,” write the Washington Post's Leonard Downie and Robert Kaiser. 1 When it acts as a watchdog, the press keeps an eye trained on government in order to expose—and thus prevent— abuse. In campaigns, reporters extend this perspective to vetting candidates, examining individuals instead of institutions to reveal corrupting influences and impulses. But in so doing, they sometimes distort the watchdog role to the point where it becomes disconnected from the end it is intended to serve. While the watchdog exposes corruption to ensure the honest and effective functioning of government, in campaigns reporters too often become amateur psychologists, probing the psyches of the candidates but largely failing to describe how what they find there relates to the job one of their outpatients will assume.

The human disposition to probe the difference between the public and private person is long-lived. “The chasm between the public majesty of the leader and the old coot's tawdry reality has been memorialized through the ages,” noted the Washington Post's Meg Greenfield. “What is different about our time is that most of the protective veils have been ripped off while the performers are still on stage.” 2

The veil-ripping process focuses not only on private words and behaviors but also on psychological profiling that seeks patterns in these

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The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction xi
  • The Press Effect *
  • Chapter 1 - The Press as Storyteller 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Press as Amateur Psychologist, Part I 24
  • Chapter 3 - The Press as Amateur Psychologist, Part II 41
  • Chapter 4 - The Press as Soothsayer 74
  • Chapter 5 - The Press as Shaper of Events 95
  • Chapter 6 - The Press as Patriot 130
  • Chapter 7 - The Press as Custodian of Fact 165
  • Conclusion 194
  • Notes 199
  • Index 209
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