Political Journalism in 2012: Where to Look For Analysis of The Candidates

Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink. That’s how I feel about the political journalism covering the upcoming Republican presidential primaries.  If you’re a Republican voter (which I’m not) and you want to figure out whom to vote for in the upcoming primaries,  where do you look for detailed information? Candidate messaging is exceptionally biased, short on depth and quite negative.

For me, analyzing candidates means the following:

  • What are their positions on the important issues facing the country, like immigration, national security and the wars in the Middle East, national debt and taxation, social security, jobs and stimulus and the myriad of social issues like a women’s right to choose, gay rights, etc.?
  • What relevant experience do they have in government or business, that has prepared them to be President? Do they have any executive experience?
  • What kind of people are they likely to surround themselves with in key staff positions, cabinet and judicial appointments?
  • What is their vision for the future of the country?
  •  Are they a consensus builder or will they perpetuate the partisan division that now exists?

I set out to answer these questions and it is an impossible task, distressing in light of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on campaign messaging.  It takes as much research as doing an advanced college paper. You’re not going to find the answers on the candidates’ own websites which cherry pick a few select issues and never reveal the candidates prior voting records. I actually believe that the best predictors of presidential success and conduct are personality analysis and analysis of how they conducted themselves in previous positions.

It’s a longstanding trend that the news media focuses on the story of the day, covers that day’s appearances and polling results. The plethora of Internet sites hasn’t changed this trend. The better news organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post cover the candidates in detail, but you have to read tons of articles and compile the material to get a full picture. Who has the time?

The CNN Election Center site is probably the best site out there, although it’s not so easy to find, you have to know it’s on their Politics page to find it–CNN should plug this site on its home page.  It’s got a few candidate issues positions and good bios.

The Des Moines Register 2012 Iowa Caucus site has the next best candidate site I have seen, which is a good thing for the voters in Iowa considering that their caucuses tomorrow are the first in the nation. The Register’s is a detailed site with the candidate’s resume, what the candidate is known for, their local supporters, and fundraising status. It’s a little light on positions on key issues or voting records but offers good links to that info. I highly recommend this site.

The N.Y. Times Election 2012 webpage has some very short profiles, but it focuses more on the candidate’s chances than anything else—more emphasis on the horse race.

Why is the easy-to-use summary page such a rarity? Have the major news organizations concluded that the public doesn’t want the details compiled for us like that?

Larry Sabato, whose University of Virginia Center of Politics “Crystal Ball” usually offers exceptional analysis has failed his followers in this effort.  His  website  has a  small but helpful summary thumbnail chart but it offers no detail and simply underscores  the candidate’s advantages and disadvantages.  Politico has a series of charts, but it’s short on issue positions.   Where is  The National Journal, The Huffington Post, or Real Clear Politics in this analysis?

It seems that we shouldn’t have to do independent research to vote. Would more people vote if the coverage was better?

Believe it or not, the best place to look for detailed background, bios and positions is Wikipedia.  There is a summary page listing all of the candidates, links to each one with much detail and substance.  They are the most comprehensive summaries I have found. The problem is that you can’t always rely on the reporting to be accurate.

This is a void that needs to be filled. Can you think of a more important subject for journalism to get right?

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