Reality is Not Debatable, Issues Are

Bob Garfield rarely rails into my earbuds, but his Feb. 6 podcast of NPR’s On the Media was an exception. After playing a series of newscast clips of anchors teasing stories on the growing “debate” about vaccines, he erupted.

“For crying out loud, there is no controversy. There is no debate,” said Garfield, emphasis in the transcript. “Cynical politicians like Rand Paul and Chris Christie may pander all they want to frightened moms and the tinfoil-hat crowd–just as 49 US Senators can deny man’s role in climate change. But there is no rational basis for their beliefs. They are simply wrong — and when the media frame such idiocy as one side of a debate, they are not only legitimizing ignorance and demagoguery, they are threatening the lives of children.”

Garfield’s boil was followed a few days later by the announcement of Jon Stewart’s retirement. And I was immediately reminded of his 2004 takedown of CNN’s crossfire. Stewart did his own quiet railing that day, telling Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson to “stop hurting America” by reducing serious issues to predictable daily doses of partisan rant.

Of course Stewart and Garfield aren’t complaining about the same thing. Issues deserve debate and Stewart’s point is they deserve nuance rather than a 30-minute squeeze through the cable hack funnel. Continue reading

Politico and the Land of Opportunity

Politico’s intention to expand its reporting business beyond Washington and New York comes at a time when news coverage of statehouses across the country is in steep decline. And that’s only one of a several good reasons for expansion.

The Pew Research Center reported in July full-time coverage of state legislatures has dropped 35 percent in little more than a decade. The Center’s census of statehouse reporters showed that 741 full-time journalists are assigned to statehouses, but nearly 100 of those are in Texas and California alone. (For a look at the overall decline of beat reporting, check out this recent episode of On the Media.)

The result is a lot of uncovered stories. Fewer reporters, more opportunities, less competition. Continue reading