There’s no harm in rumor and guesswork: At the Columbia Journalism Review, Brendan Nyhan observed the inane reactions to Hillary Clinton’s recent tweets, as we did last week. He then asked a question which pretty much answers itself:
“Will all 2016 coverage be this dumb? TBD...”
Will all the coverage be this dumb? Based on twenty-plus years of precedent, the answer will almost surely be yes. Nyhan’s piece would have been much more valuable if he had simply said that.
Will the inanity persist through another White House cycle? Almost surely, the answer is yes. Consider Jonathan Bernstein’s reaction to Nyhan in the Washington Post's PostPartisan blog.
As Bernstein begins, he agrees with Nyhan’s assessment. He notes “the silly overreactions” to Clinton’s new Twitter account and, “even more goofy,” to her very first tweet.
That said, Bernstein is deeply immersed in Mainstream Inanity Culture. Immediately, he says he sympathizes with his colleagues’ inanity:
BERNSTEIN (6/17/13): Brendan Nyhan has a nice column out today about silly overreactions to Hillary Clinton’s new post-government Twitter account and (even more goofy) her first tweet.Bernstein is right on one basic point. Almost surely, Clinton will be a front-runner for the nomination if she decides to run. As a matter of politics, “that makes her decision quite important.”
He’s right. And yet...
I have a fair amount of sympathy for pundits on this one. The truth is that by far the single most important question about 2016 is whether Clinton will wind up running for president or not. If she does, she’s somewhere between a solid and an overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination; if not, it’s wide open. Since it certainly does matter who the Democrats choose, that makes her decision quite important.
But why would that fact make Bernstein sympathize with Colleagues Behaving Inanely? Why wouldn’t he be offended when colleagues clown around about something so important?
Below, you see his explanation. Sadly, this represents the type of reasoning which is common within the D-minus elite still known as the “upper-end press corps:”
BERNSTEIN: What does this mean for reporters and pundits covering the 2016 nomination contest—which, remember, absolutely has begun in earnest already? It means there’s going to be an overwhelming interest in reading tea leaves on Clinton’s intentions; that Clinton’s intentions are highly important; and that we’re currently in a two- or three-year holding pattern in which there will be no actual, real news about those intentions.Note the way this subhuman gaggle imitates human behavior:
Given all of that, I guess I’m more inclined than usual to give a lot of leeway to speculative interpretation of hints of possibilities of whispers of rumors of news. On the other hand, responsible writers should clearly label it as such. Is that too much to ask?
Basically, if everyone who pays any attention to politics at all is going to spend the next two years guessing at what Hillary Clinton is up to, then I think it’s okay for reporters and pundits to join in. All we should ask is that they do it with as much humility as possible, pointing out explicitly that it’s all speculation and guesswork. As long as they do that, there’s not much harm in it.
According to Bernstein, since Clinton’s decision will be important, “it means there’s going to be an overwhelming interest in reading tea leaves” about it. Because the decision is so important, Bernstein is inclined “to give a lot of leeway to speculative interpretation of hints of possibilities of whispers of rumors of news.”
As long as pundits admit that they’re engaged in guesswork and rumor, it’s OK for them to do so! After all, “everyone who pays any attention to politics at all”—that is, everyone in Bernstein’s professional guild—“is going to spend the next two years guessing at what Clinton is up to.”
As long as his colleagues admit they’re just guessing, “there’s not much harm in it,” Bernstein muses. Might we interject a question at this point?
Instead of wasting their time reading tea leaves, couldn’t these people spend their time developing real information about some major policy matter while waiting for Clinton to make an announcement? There is no sign that any such thought ever entered Bernstein’s head as he pondered this matter.
This is the latest imitation of life from a mover and shaker in the press corps. They've been this way for decades now.
Why won’t Nyhan just say so?
Like kudzu, the Dowdism crept: “There’s not much harm in it,” Bernstein says, referring to the way his colleagues will waste their time, and yours, in the next few years.
In our view, part of the harm lies in the work they could have done but won’t. This thought doesn’t seem to have entered Bernstein’s head. We thought of Joe Klein’s anecdote about Maureen Dowd, as recorded by Gay Jervey in 1999:
JERVEY (6/99): "Maureen is very talented," observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. "But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties...I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, ‘Maureen, why don't you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?' And she said, ‘You mean I should write about welfare reform?’ ”Can we talk? Dowd didn’t care about welfare reform, a point she conveyed in eye-rolling fashion to Klein.
Bernstein could use his platform to advance the information about public schools we have discussed for the past many years. But neither he, nor anyone else, is likely to do that.
You see, our professional press corps doesn’t care about public schools or the children within them. Indeed, Bernstein’s cabal doesn’t care about much.
In our view, the very bright Nyhan should state this obvious fact.