In It But Not of It

Julian Sanchez replies to my ill-tempered rant about journalists:

I think there’s a real problem of source capture in D.C. journalism, even bracketing the shady quid-pro-quos involved with high-level access. But I doubt a press corps composed largely of snarling misanthropes would be much better. If you want to really understand a particular beat, and be good at covering it, you ultimately have to spend a lot of time socializing with the people you cover. A good reporter isn’t going to become best buddies with the folks he’s writing about, but some minimum level of amiability is going to be required if you expect to get wind of scuttlebutt or know what people in a particular industry or agency are thinking. There are plenty of stories that only get broken because two people happened to get a casual beer at the right time. It’s also, frankly, hard to write effectively about people you can’t empathize with at least somewhat, even when you come to criticize. So for all that I share the disdain for D.C. schmooziness—and for all that I probably fell a lot more into the misanthrope category myself as a reporter—it’s worth acknowledging that there’s a tradeoff involved.

The rewards for schmoozing that characterize the DC beat are fairly unique. I can’t think of many other beats where reporters even bother to socialize with the people they cover — certainly the ones I know in Rochester don’t. Yet these reporters are effective, in part because their sources know they aren’t interested in currying the favor of the people they cover.

Sources for big stories are often minor players: a patrol cop who knows about a bad bust, or a secretary in the school administrator’s office who sees millions of dollars in fraud. These people care about their jobs, and they place an immense amount of trust in a reporter’s confidence. Are they going to chance giving their information to a glad-hander who boozes it up with the Police Chief, or plays golf with the School Superintendent?

These reporters aren’t devoid of empathy — I’m sure they feel for the single mother secretary who risks poverty to expose fraud or abuse. But they sure as hell aren’t throwing lavish fêtes, complete with court-jester skits, for the city elite. And, yes, I think a few of them do spit whenever the Mayor’s name is mentioned.

73 replies
  1. 1
    El Cid says:

    The distinction between the “snarling misanthrope” approach and “minimum level of amiability” is a false and irrelevant one, it is not the problem with which we citizens & news consumers are faced, and if journalists and, more importantly, their editors and publishers and owners, concentrated on proper, useful, and correct journalistic professionalism, no one would give a shit whether you were “amiable” to someone you covered or not.

  2. 2
    JMG says:

    Dear MM: I was a sportswriter for over 25 years, and the way I put it to those (few) persons I covered who tried to butter me up was “We can be friendly, but we can’t be friends. The readers are my only friends.”
    Does that seem reasonable? I think it may be what Sanchez was getting at.

  3. 3
    geg6 says:

    Word. My mother was a reporter and she never, ever, ever socialized in any way with those she covered (local government). Nor was she particularly empathetic to them even if their views and policies matched her own preferences. Sanchez is peddling a line of apologist bullshit here. The Village, as always, finds no fault with it’s own.

  4. 4
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @El Cid: I agree with El Cid. Do your damn job, and I don’t care what you do in your personal time. I don’t think someone has to be antagonistic in order to be a journalist as long as said journalist is willing to push when s/he senses a story. It might make it easier if one is a misanthrope not to get sucked into the culture of the Village, I don’t think it’s a requirement.

  5. 5
    Svensker says:

    The other problem is that “reporters” used to not make a lot of money. Now most of the big time people that you see on the TV make huge amounts of money, and the people they hang out with are those with power and money. It skews the view.

  6. 6
    valdivia says:

    OT (or on cue?) Helene Cooper writes a piece comparing Obama to Bush because the oil spill and saying this is his Katrina. head:desk.

  7. 7
    Aimai says:

    Mistermix you’ve said everything that needed saying. And four good reporters come to mind, and their accompanying stories: sy hersh, Jane Mayer, Murray waas, Walter pincus. I think of the myth of the “story broken over two beers” with a highly placed source is nonsense. I doubt if sancchez could actually name one. Breaks come from tireless work, respect for and interest in the people at the bottom of the chain, and sometimes tips that come not because you know important people socially but because some whistleblower knows you don’t plan on selling him out for access to a garden party.


  8. 8

    I can’t think of many other beats where reporters even bother to socialize with the people they cover.

    I think this depends on what you mean by socialize. A good reporter builds relationships with the secretary at the County Commissioner’s office, and the County Judge and the Sheriff’s deputy because it helps to get access to information. Now they don’t usually go golfing or fishing with them, but they do interact with them enough to try to be sociable. That may include laughing at a joke or asking about the subject’s family while waiting around for a meeting to start.

    I’ve known some great reporters who weren’t assholes to the people they covered.

    Which is entirely different than the circle-jerk that seems to pass for DC political media.

  9. 9
    El Cid says:

    @valdivia: Well? It’s near Louisiana, and it’s something bad, and Obama hasn’t landed in the oil slick yet, so, it is Obama’s Katrina, right?

  10. 10
    valdivia says:

    @El Cid:
    why are these people so lazy? I mean if there is one problem is that way back when Bush was President in 2003 his policy was to scrap regulations that would have prevented this. But instead of reporting that we get the ‘optics’ article and the idiotic comparison. Ugh. I hate these assholes.

  11. 11
    Brian J says:

    You could look at this from two angles. The first is the way in which you just did, but the other involves not necessarily changing the habits of journalists but instead not giving them the chance to get so cozy. I believe that involves changing the frequency with which politicians get elected. If there wasn’t such a high rate of reelection, perhaps there would be less of a chance for relationships to develop. A big part of accomplishing that involves regulating political donations and other things like that to prevent some playings from stomping on others.

    Then again, I also think that’s pretty much the answer to everything, so perhaps my opinion is slightly skewed.

  12. 12
    El Cid says:

    It would also be nice if the billion dollar media would hold their editors and journalists to the same high standards of logical coherence and evidentiary quality that undergraduate college research papers are held to. If you want to have a separate VIP / DC gossip section or a column of what high officials feel like spinning that day, have it.

  13. 13
    WereBear says:

    What a reporter should want, even if he or she is not liked, is respect for their fairness and accuracy. No hit jobs, no puff pieces.

    So is it any wonder slimy journalism peaked during the Bush years? That was the kind they wanted.

  14. 14
    GregB says:

    I just heard one of the Max Headroom’s on CNN state that Rush Limbaugh has called this Obama’s Katrina.

    It’s great to have that hate filled racist junkie as America’s assignment editor I tell you.

  15. 15
    Brian J says:


    I don’t think that was what she was saying.

  16. 16
    geg6 says:


    This exactly right. My mom covered a guy she once dated in high school who eventually became a county commissioner. It was through her efforts to show respect and human interest in his secretaries and the civil servants in the commissioners office that she got her scoops and not by trading on her past relationship with the commissioner. In fact, he used to lament how she “turned” on him. She would laugh and laugh about that. He never understood that she took her job more seriously than the roses he used to bring her when they were young adults.

  17. 17
    kay says:


    I don’t think she did a bad job. She actually lays out the differences between the two, where it isn’t like Katrina.
    He should call her on the problem she identified, though, and not go to the dinner tonight.
    If the press clique think it’s unseemly for him to attend their dinner during an environmental disaster, and they’re going to rely on that as a part of the Katrina meme, he shouldn’t go.
    He has to go to the college graduation, all those disappointed people, but he can skip the press dinner.
    “Optics problem” solved. He doesn’t show at the celebrity-press dinner.
    But they’re going to bitch about that, too.

  18. 18
    mistermix says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: I agree with this. By “socialize” I meant “having a beer with” or “running in the same circles as”, which I think is the way that Sanchez meant it.

  19. 19
    aimai says:


    But arguing with signposts–when you are nice to the Mayor’s secretary you aren’t, in fact, *covering* the mayor’s secretary, you are covering the Mayor’s office. And, though its important to be nice and pleasant to almost everyone you interact with, for its own sake, even that case requires that you put the story above your personal connection if the story is big enough. In other words, exchanging quips, beers, and “how’s your kid” with a low level staffer better not prevent you from publishing details of the Mayor’s secret meetings with prostitutes or it is, in fact, preventing you from doing your job.


  20. 20
    Brian J says:


    It’s probably easier if he goes to the dinner, acts affable but not goofy, and deals with whatever fallout there is from going, if any at all. I mean, there will be Republicans at this thing, right? And while some might be angry that he’s laughing while oil is destroying stuff, as if he had something to do with it, I doubt most people know what the hell this event is. Except the people going, of course, most of whom are journalists who will be writing about his administration for a long, long time.

    In other words, if he’s going to piss any group of people off, he’s right to piss off the public now. There’s less of a chance of this biting him in the ass in the end.

  21. 21
    Allison W. says:

    I don’t think a reporter who has contempt and disgust for politicians is going to be fair and objective. ‘I hate your kind so lets see how horrible you are’ – you think this person is going to report the unbiased truth? You think if this person were to find that there wasn’t corruption on the part of his subject, that he would come out with a report that clears his subject? I don’t think so.

    Keep your emotions and personal feelings in check. Think about the reader. We deserve the facts and nothing else. And those who say you need to develop relationships or good will in order to get the story are correct. You see this type of thing in the workplace – when people trust you – they tell you things. And they can’t learn to trust you, if you don’t develop some rapport with them.

    With all that said, I could give a rats ass about reporter’s complaints about the WH. What is this really about anyway? Obama didn’t tell them he was going to get a burger? Am I supposed to feel bad for these guys who assist the GOP in their continuous stream of lies?! Waiting until the lie sets in before they say, ‘oh that might not be true’. Those guys? They are afraid of retaliation? Really? I would think that if this WH was so intimidating, we would see them do the same to members of Congress who don’t vote for their legislation. Why waste that ability on reporters?

  22. 22
    valdivia says:

    @Brian J:

    while Cooper was not particularly bad in this I just find the formulation, the fall back into Katrina and Bush so so lazy.
    I do think the Village wants to have their cake and eat it too–they want to chastise Obama for being there but if he doesn’t they will be merciless with him for rebuffing them.

  23. 23
    scav says:

    What happened to the entire class of cordial grown-up professional relationships that used to exist? Why is everything reduced to friends / not-friends?

  24. 24
    aimai says:

    You are so right. But, of course, the right way to handle that kind of “no win” situation is for Obama to take it by the horns.Turn the spotlight off of the dinner as such and turn it harshly onto the very issue that the press is refusing to cover: Bush era deregulation and ecological disaster as more than just a partisan football.

    Issue a strong statement attacking BP, the Republicans in Congress, and Cheney/Halliburton at the same time that he flies down there to meet with representative members of the fishing industry, the ecologically minded community, and sobbing residents.

    When all eyes are focused on you, and the story line is written, doing something dramatic that puts the emphasis where you want it is a no brainer. You are no worse off than before, and you and the cause at issue will get some coverage, howerver grudging. Besides, who wants to see Jay Leno.


  25. 25
    valdivia says:

    @scav: because since the Bush years we seem to be living in a world thought up by Carl Schmitt.

  26. 26
    Brian J says:


    To the extent that it’s similar and might have a similar impact, it’s pretty much the only choice as a frame of reference. After all, wasn’t Katrina the point where the public really, really started to turn on Bush?

    I suspect a large part of why Obama is being mindful of what might happen–the public turning on him*–but not saying much of anything specific is that he’s still waiting for some details. In other words, rightly or wrongly, he’s waiting for more facts before making up his mind.

    *I originally wrote that sentence as “…the public turning him on.” So, um…yeah.

  27. 27
    kay says:


    I have to say, valdivia, too, Obama has to change his position on deep water off-shore drilling. I didn’t really have an opinion on it. I don’t know that much about it. As far as I’m concerned, after this, I’ve got all the information I need. Any benefit we’re going to gain from increased access to oil is far outweighed by a single disaster like this. Too risky, by definition.
    He needs to admit he made a mistake. It is impractical to get this oil. It may exist, they may want to pump it and sell it, but it may as well be on the fucking moon. They can’t access it without real concrete risk of enormous damage, so for all practical purposes it isn’t available.
    He’s got new information, and we’re talking about damage across five states, at a minimum. Time to change course, Obama. Look at the reality instead of the theory and admit the error.

  28. 28
    valdivia says:

    I am all for this.

    @Brian J:
    I guess my problem is that the story gets written as if it is a fit, when it really is not. One has to do with governance and policy incompetence. and the other has to do with cleaning up the mess that deregulation caused. But because they both have to do with the same area and he doesn’t want to ‘lose the public’ the story gets written this way when it just does not fit.

    @kay: I agree with this. And from what i saw yesterday in a press conference they already sounded that way.

  29. 29
    scav says:

    @valdivia: I think it’s a bit more pervasive / long-term than that. Why would having the president be someone you’d like to have a beer with even arise as a supposed qualification for the position? Talk about what I would hope to be a professional relationship. And on a direct interpersonal level you’ve either got waiters fawning over you pretending to be life-long friends applauding your choice of appetizer or cashiers that ring you up and make change while talking on their cells and not overtly acknowledging you exist except as something that hands them a form of payment that must be processed. It’s like an entire class of human interaction has dropped from the american repertoire.

  30. 30


    In other words, exchanging quips, beers, and “how’s your kid” with a low level staffer better not prevent you from publishing details of the Mayor’s secret meetings with prostitutes or it is, in fact, preventing you from doing your job.

    This should go without saying, but I guess it doesn’t.

  31. 31
    valdivia says:

    Media Matters sets the record straight. On this Katrina bs.

  32. 32
    kay says:


    It was a political move, the support for offshore drilling. When the economy heats up, energy prices are going to rise, and the price at the pump is going to rise. The Obama people (I believe) wanted to preempt the inevitable “drill baby drill” yammering when that happens, so he took that position.
    This is my personal theory, so take it with a grain of salt, but you can match Bush’s falling approval ratings nearly perfectly with increases in gas prices. When the price at the pump went up, independents abandoned him. Which doesn’t say much for independents, also known as “low information voters”. We’d all like to think it was moral outrage over Iraq and Katrina, and that’s the media meme, but IMO a lot of it had to do with 4 dollar a gallon gas.

  33. 33
    beltane says:

    @valdivia: They are all dutifully bleating out their RNC provided talking points just like they’re paid to do.

  34. 34
    beltane says:

    @kay: That’s true. Part of the reason Bill Clinton’s approval ratings were so high in his second term was due to gas prices being around $1 a gallon. A large percentage of Americans have not a care in the world other than how much it costs them to fill up their gas tank. A genocidal dictator who kept gas prices very low would be the darling of the people.

  35. 35
    tim says:

    Keep it up, mistermix. On this topic you are right on.

    You’re being dissed by DC insiders because you’re calling them out on the bullshit behind the way they do business: those cocktail parties make them FEEL IMPORTANT and as though they are an important person liked and known by other important, serious people, and that of course is what’s most important of all.

  36. 36
    valdivia says:


    yes you are right on this.

    yay for our informed public. fickle does not even come close to describing them eh?

  37. 37
    El Cid says:

    Judith Miller sure was amiable with those government officials who told her what to say about Iraq and her editors agreed to do so.

    Fred Hiatt gets along pretty well with billionaire Pete Peterson who wants old people on Social Security to eat dumpster food so he can make more on his investments.

  38. 38
    kay says:


    I heard it every day. I live in a rural area, Bush got 70% in my precinct. They all drive gas guzzlers of various kinds, be it a huge pick-up truck they don’t use to haul anything or an enormous SUV for a three person family. They all drive a lot (to a certain extent they have to: rural) and they all got disenchanted fast when it finally, finally hit them where they live. The best selling bumper sticker at the Dem booth at the county fair compared gas prices when Bush took office to what was then the average.
    Media love independents. There’s this myth that they’re the only voters out there poring over issues and discerning the truth behind the spin, because they’re “not partisan”. I believe the reverse. I think independents spin 180 illogically on a dime with any short-term issue that affects them directly, and negatively. I think they’re the worst barometer of good policy. They are opposed to any short-term hit for long-term gain, always.

  39. 39
    El Cid says:

    By the way, you can go back to a historical period and compare the writings and reporting and analysis of, say, Time or New York Times writers versus I. F. Stone who disdained insider contacts.

    It might be worth mentioning, though, that government and business officials who really give a damn often go to the reporters they feel most likely to do a story justice — so sometimes the did go to I. F. Stone and/or the alternative media (the blogs of the 1960s – 1980s).;

  40. 40
    WereBear says:

    The only parallels between this oil spill and Katrina is that the Gulf Coast is devastated while someone is President.

    And that’s about it.

  41. 41
    El Cid says:

    @kay: Typical reports also ignore the constantly established fact that most “independents” by far tend to be very liberal and vote Democratic or very conservative and vote Republican.

    In most areas there are very few people who just float in the middle and vote, say, randomly for either party.

  42. 42
    Wag says:

    So if the reporters in Mexico who have been killed by the drug cartels had instead hung put with the king pins, had a couple of drinks, and learned about the trials and tribulations of the cartel life, everyone would be happy and alive.

    But instead they had to go and report the truth, and mess it up for everyone.

    Poor misunderstood drug lords. :(

  43. 43
    El Cid says:

    @WereBear: This is actually another attempt to rewrite history, trying to make people think that the reason the nation was so utterly disgusted with the Bush Jr administration’s preparedness for and response to Katrina was ‘something really bad and catastrophic happened to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast and it was hard to deal with and a lot of people griped because the government couldn’t do everything at once.’

  44. 44
    El Cid says:

    @Wag: The weekly newsmagazine Semana in Colombia broke the story in February of 2009 that the right wing Uribe government’s intelligence agency had been electronically spying on nearly anyone they considered opposed to them, not just labor activists and human rights workers and journalists and opposition politicians but international diplomatic teams, prosecutors, even Supreme Court Justices. And frequently this information was shared with right wing paramilitary death squads, who then either threatened the spied upon parties or assassinated them.

    The report was so good that by the afternoon of the day the story came out, the prosecutors’ office (kind of an analogue to the Justice Dept) had occupied the offices of the intelligence agency to prevent destruction of data.

    And they got this information because employees within this agency (the DAS) went to them, not because they had excellent relations with the Uribe regime.

  45. 45
    R. Porrofatto says:

    It works both ways — some reporters, especially the elite highly-paid Washington sort, possess enormous power, which can be a strong, even addictive drug, and many journalists succumb to its effects as readily as anyone else. At the same time, it’s to the benefit of politicians (and our detriment) to flatter and pander to these journalists’ egos. For every tire-swing there’s the politician that owns the tire. Schmooze-fest journo-association dinners and the like serve the purposes of the powerful, period.

  46. 46
    kay says:

    @El Cid:

    So true. Of course they do. They’re presented with tens of candidates up and down the ballot, and they are by definition not that interested. It’s why campaigns are always trying to get their attention. Media want me to believe they’re conducting this intense analysis of “positions” on “issues”, but only the hated and reviled and polarizing “partisans” do that. Party affiliation is an information short cut. They’re not using that? Then what are they relying on? We’ve already established they don’t pay any attention until 2 days before an election, with their wild and incoherent mood swings. They’re relying on shit like gas prices, or what happened to them yesterday at the grocery store, or a “gaffe”.
    But these voters are the font of wisdom, and we all have to kowtow to them, lest they bolt and go the other way.

  47. 47
    matoko_chan says:

    Sanchez is so full of it that his eyeballs are swimming.
    Consider the current villager meme that Crist is Leiberman redux.
    He isn’t.
    Crist is Dede Scozzafava.
    Rubio is the Tea Party candidate, membah?
    But in the interest of the narrative, and throwing NY-23 down the memory hole, the media liturgical quild is forgetting all about Rubio inviting the PalinTea Party mindrot in.
    Its all about sales.
    the media really needs conservotown to appear capable of putting up a decent match.
    that is all they care about.

  48. 48
    matoko_chan says:

    mindrot– from a verner vinge scifi classic.

    The mindrot virus originally manifested itself on the Emergents’ home world as a devastating plague, but they subsequently mastered it and learned to use it both as a weapon and as a tool for mental domination. Emergent culture uses mindrot primarily in the form of a variant which technicians can manipulate in order to release neurotoxins to specific parts of the brain. An active MRI-type device triggers changes through dia- and paramagnetic biological molecules. By manipulating the brain in this way, Emergent managers induce obsession with a single idea or specialty, which they call Focus, essentially turning them into brilliant appliances.

  49. 49

    So, mistermix, are you saying reporters shouldn’t get all butthurt because they didn’t get invited to “tire swing” with President McCain? Dude, why are you harshing on these hard working average Americans?

  50. 50
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Reporters socializing with politicians is just another sign that we’re all soçialists now.

    And no, when they did it with John McCain it wasn’t, because there was barbecue involved.

  51. 51
    kay says:

    @El Cid:

    I have to say, too, the media broadcast and amplify everything Palin says, and her most memorable line is “drill baby drill”.

    You would think there would be a mention of that.

    She’s got them played so bad they may never recover. They amplify only her Tweets, and she doesn’t permit follow-up, and that’s just what they’ve passively accepted! Those are the rules!

  52. 52

    @Aimai: Don’t forget I.F. Stone. He never socialized with the big shots. In fact, he thought it would hurt his work.

  53. 53
    Violet says:

    mistermix, you have obviously hit a nerve. If you hadn’t, no one would have responded to your post. Keep up the good work.

  54. 54

    @El Cid: Bingo! I should have read all the way down the comments before replying to your first comment!!

  55. 55
    Violet says:

    @Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle:
    Doubt aimai will forget him – he’s her grandfather.

  56. 56
    Nellcote says:

    Prez. Obama has much to say about the press at his commencement address in Michigan just now.

  57. 57
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    when you are nice to the Mayor’s secretary you aren’t, in fact, covering the mayor’s secretary, you are covering the Mayor’s office.

    I doubt that actual misanthropes made good reporters back in the day (commentary, that’s a horse of a different color). But having a well developed sense of class warfare probably didn’t hurt. Those two are not the same thing.

    In the golden days of yore (i.e. we probably need to factor in some exaggeration by way of nostalgia) beat reporters socialized with folks closer to the bottom of the org chart, in order to dig up info on the folks at the top of the org chart. Which made sense because most beat reporters were nowhere near the social level of the folks at the top and would scarcely have been able to socialize with the upper crust even if they wanted to. Today the situation is the reverse – our star “reporters” move in the same social milieu as the decision makers. That is the root of the problem – our media stars are paid too much (in both money and fame) and their sense of class warfare is directed downwards rather than upwards.

  58. 58
    El Cid says:

    By the way, who’s to say that the most successful schmoozers aren’t the most snarling misanthropes, just better at turning on the fake than the rest of us?

  59. 59
    D. Mason says:


    When the price at the pump went up, independents abandoned him. Which doesn’t say much for independents, also known as “low information voters”. We’d all like to think it was moral outrage over Iraq and Katrina, and that’s the media meme, but IMO a lot of it had to do with 4 dollar a gallon gas.

    And in a slightly later post…

    There’s this myth that they’re the only voters out there poring over issues and discerning the truth behind the spin, because they’re “not partisan”. I believe the reverse. I think independents spin 180 illogically on a dime with any short-term issue that affects them directly, and negatively.

    I think these two statements of yours reveal a pretty high degree of ignorance regarding the American voter at large. Sure there are plenty of independents who vote based on the weather, but there are plenty of partisan voters who vote the same party line as their parents, some of whom voted the same party line as their parents. They’re both pretty massively uninformed voters. There are also plenty of independents who have major concerns or blocks of issues they hold dear and neither party meets their needs so they choose the best candidate for any particular election. That’s pretty far from low information in my book. Obviously there’s no way to measure the percentages, so what gives you the justification to look down on a whole class of people because you don’t consider them sufficiently affiliated?

  60. 60
    tc125231 says:

    These reporters aren’t devoid of empathy—I’m sure they feel for the single mother secretary who risks poverty to expose fraud or abuse. But they sure as hell aren’t throwing lavish fêtes, complete with court-jester skits, for the city elite.

    IMHO, the real difference is whether you think the current “culture” or “elite” is salvageable.

    Sanchez, like many fairly decent people who have made it in what has become an ignominious trade, want to be believe that the current system can be salvaged. Taking them seriously makes about as much sense as wondering why Buffet, with $5 billion invested, supports Goldman.

    For the record, I don’t believe it’s salvageable. Sooner or later, its string is going to run out. How much damage will be done first is anyone’s guess.

  61. 61
    Cacti says:

    Everyone knows that Woodward and Bernstein broke Watergate over 30 dollar steaks with Mark Felt.

    And Ed Murrow was able to bring down Joe McCarthy while playing a friendly game of billiards.

  62. 62
    kay says:

    @D. Mason:

    I don’t know why you take each and every one of my comments so personally. It seems I’ve insulted you again.

    I didn’t set this frame up. It’s repeated again and again and again. They’re called “swing voters”. That would seem to indicate they don’t have a set of inviolate principles they follow. They “swing”.

    It’s always presented as “Candidate X has ‘lost’ independents”, and it’s never explained WHY they were “lost”. I believe that this is not due to the candidate or office-holders positions, but is instead due to external conditions, things like gas prices or their particular employment situation. In Obama’s case, like him or dislike him, he hasn’t done a whole hell of a lot different than what he ran on. So what made them flee? I think it’s external factors.

    if they’re ‘independents’, why are they swinging en masse? I’m questioning the whole media sales job.

    And as for what gives me the “right” to express my opinion, which I stated IS an opinion, well, I think I have that right, just as you express yours. You’re perfectly free to object to it or ignore it.

  63. 63
    kay says:

    @D. Mason:

    It also has to do with actual participation. In my state, like a lot of states, to vote in a primary you have to declare and ask for the partisan ballot. Independents don’t vote in primaries, or they aren’t “Independents”, by definition, in my state.
    Some independents object to the rule, and maybe that’s valid, but the fact of the matter is, if you’re registered as in “Independent” in my state for the general election, that means you didn’t vote in the primary. I’m not making these rules, and I honestly don’t care whether anyone votes or doesn’t vote in a primary or a general election, I’d open it up, but the fact is they skipped the first round, here anyway, and that would indicate to me, anyway, that those loathsome and divisive partisans are picking the candidates independents vote for in the general, anyway.

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    kay says:

    @D. Mason:

    And this will make your head explode, but in federal elections, your “issue-based” independent voter analysis indicates an unfamiliarity with how the legislative process works.
    If an independent liberal-leaner votes for Crist in Florida, based on, oh, his education policy (which is a state issue, anyway ) how does that make any sense? Yet that’s what media are telling us they’re going to do.
    Crist is going to vote with Republicans 80 or 90% of the time, and he’s going to have jack-all to do with education in the US Senate. I can feel very strongly about education issues, and vote for Crist on that basis, but I should probably figure out how the thing works, or I’m spinning my wheels.
    We have single issue voters here who are independents (to go to your ‘strong opinions on issues” argument) who vote in local elections on things like the death penalty, or abortion. They write letters to the editor, is how I know this. “I don’t vote for the man, I vote on the issues, and my issue is abortion”.
    What-all does abortion or the death penalty have to do with what a county commissioner does?

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    D. Mason says:


    Who said anything about rights? This isn’t some First amendment challenge, it’s a blog post. My question was about justification, you know, how you square something inside your own head. I’ll try again. How do you personally justify looking down on people simply because they don’t join a political team? That’s what you’re doing and I just want to know what you think makes that the correct thing to do.

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    kay says:

    @D. Mason:

    I told you the reasons. They don’t vote in primaries, they’re portrayed as well-informed and “independent” yet they swing as a bloc with no change in the office-holder’s execution plans, and they (we’re told) vote on “issues” that don’t match the office, and that, to me, indicates they don’t know who does what or how it works. Obama’s a good example. He has stuck very close to what he ran on. So why the swing voter remorse? I would suggest they either didn’t know what he ran on or don’t know what he’s done. That’s not a well-informed voter. That’s a reaction to external events.
    If “swing voting independents” are voting for Charlie Crist for Senate because he’s good on Florida state education issues, the fact is they don’t know how the Senate works, or what it does, and they’re going to be disappointed.
    If “swing voting independents” are fed up with incumbents so voting for the latest tea party candidate for the US House, they’re getting a House member who votes hard-Right GOP, on issue after issue, because that’s how the House works, on that side. If they don’t know that, they’re not “well informed”.
    The fact is, to get anything done in the US Congress, your representative is a member of a voting body, and he or she needs a majority. This whole “maverick” thing has limited utility, in a legislature. If swing voters are indeed voting to advance certain specific issues, they’re not going to make much headway with this one at a time strategy you claim they’re adopting.

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    See, this is what’s fucked up with journalism right now.

    Journalists should be friendly just like police officers should be friendly. “Just keep one thing in mind – if you’re schmoozing with me, and I realize you’re dirty, I’m going to feel dirty too. And I’m going to scrub that dirt away by exercising all of my power to do my job perfectly against you. Because I’ll be stuck having to prove to myself that my duty comes before some dirty schmoozer.”

    Of course, “journalistic duty” used to be getting the truth out. Now, it’s “making money”. And muckraking just isn’t as profitable as puff pieces.

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    kay says:

    @D. Mason:

    I think I have an example. I volunteered for a court of appeals judicial race, in 2004. My state elects judges. The judicial candidate, we’ll call him Judge Brown, was a Vietnam combat vet with bad knees, who was then sitting on a lower court. Judicial candidates walk parade routes here, and Judge Brown couldn’t do that, besides, he was almost pathologically shy (he’s since died). So I walked routes for him, and handed out his campaign swag. We didn’t put his picture on the lit because he’s (honestly) odd looking. He had long hair and, frankly, he was a physical wreck, although very smart.
    I enjoy that stuff, once I’m in it, so I was talking away to the assembled parade-watchers, and I’m a lawyer, so I could state his positions. I wanted him to win because my appeals go to his court, and he was a liberal.
    No one asked. Not only that, they were thanking me with “Thank you, Judge Brown”, after our conversations. They had no idea who this person was, because there ain’t no way they should have been mistaking me for Judge Brown, who was a sitting judge at the time. He won decisively, with huge independent support. What were they voting on? I have no idea. Not him.

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    aimai says:

    Kay, you make great points. I don’t think you have to defend yourself to D. Brown–his/her points weren’t as well informed as yours. I know from all your posts that you have tremendous insight into local and national politics. I’ve learned a ton from your posts. I enjoyed the extended version of your point about swing voters being low information voters. Its something that we all have seen, over and over again, during all the last elections.

    I’d like to make the point more simply still. A “swing voter” who was really voting *on the issues* might swing from right to harder right, from center left to far left, or occasionally between the two parties. The press and the parties are only interested in those in the middle because those are the ones whose votes can be captured, if only for an instant, at a given election. Occasionally we will see some talk about the importance of swing voters who swing all the way out and go third party or who stay home.

    Given the bone deep differences between the two parties, at this point–their history, structure, tendencies, policies, ideology and goals any person who swings between the two parties at this point has to be making either a grand life’s bargain–switching for good–or is practically too stupid to be allowed out without a minder. You don’t wake up and suddenly think “I’ll give the black guy a chance” and then shriek “ohmygod he did things like a democrat!” And you don’t vote for Bush as a “compassionate conservative” who will keep our “blue skies clean” without being an utter moron.


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    aimai says:

    I also think the continued insistence by D. Mason that your original post showed “contempt” or was “looking down on the voters” is just childishly weird. To speak honestly about an amorphous group of people whose behavior is non rational but much vaunted by the press just doesn’t fall under the same rules of conduct as “don’t mention to aunt bessie how you dislike her jello salad, it’ll hurt her feelings and she’s a real nice person anyhow.” No actual persons are harmed when Kay discusses voting patterns.


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    D. Mason says:


    I also think the continued insistence by D. Mason that your original post showed “contempt” or was “looking down on the voters” is just childishly weird

    If by, “continued insistence” you mean repeating the (obviously misunderstood) question, then yeah, you got me dead to rights.

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    aimai says:

    D. Mason,

    Kay made some really important and interesting observations about swing voters based on her long and varied personal experience with voters. You took it personally and accused her of being not nice to hypothetical swing voters. You further accused her of being some kind of elitist who looks down on the salt of the earth swing voter. That was dumb. Crashingly dumb.


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