David Brooks on journalism
On the Times campaign blog, David Brooks defends the questions put to Clinton and Obama the latest debate:
I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that’s their own fault.
We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It’s legitimate to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic issues. [NYT]
It's as if Brooks sees election campaigns poorly controlled experiments. Candidates are specimens to be poked and prodded by journalists seeking to gage their reactions to various inane stimuli.
According to Brooks, these stimulus-response patterns matter because they will matter in the fall. In other words, if a journalist spots a self-fulfilling prophecy, it's his job to pitch in and help make it come true.
Sam Boyd argues that Brooks and his colleagues see journalism as a matter of collecting scalps. I don't think that's quite it. Brooks doesn't want to take down powerful people, he wants to listen to himself influencing discussion about them.
Bigtime pundits have a glaring conflict of interest when it comes to setting the national agenda. They like the symbolic issues because they're good at free-associating about them. Should the discussion shift to substantive issues, the pundits might have to cede the floor to experts.
This video clip from The Onion says it all... Poll: Bullshit is the most important issue for 2008 voters.