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The media's Massa problem

massa.JPGMatthew Yglesias on the coverage of Eric Massa:

I really think that political journalists who’ve spent more than 20 minutes over the past 24 hours covering the Eric Massa story need to turn the TV off, turn the BlackBerry off, turn the Twitter off, shut everything down, go to a nice quiet room, take a deep breath, look in the mirror and ask themselves why they got into this business.

How many reporters are covering this story? What are the odds that some important fact of Massa’s life will go unrevealed if you do not devote your talents and energies to looking into it? Isn’t it more likely that you’re going to commit useful journalism by looking into something else? Anything else? Like, literally, anything else? It seems to me that at the margin pretty much any use of a journalist’s time would have a greater social value than further Massa reporting. A nap, even. Get well-rested for tomorrow’s goofy story.

You can go too far talking about this in terms of individual journalists. Competitive pressures are competitive pressures, and individual journalists get assignments from their editors. But the point still stands.

I'd only add this: The indictment isn't that Massa turned out to be a nonstory. It would be much worse, in fact, if he'd been a "story." If he'd done more to attack the health-care bill, or offered specific stories of members of the House leadership doing terrible things like trying to add elements to the legislation in order to secure Massa's vote. That would've been a "big" story and no one would feel silly for covering it. But it actually would've been worse.

The media are so focused on the undecideds and unlikely opponents of the world -- the Dennis Kucinichs and Joe Liebermans -- that all the American people ever hear are these self-important chin-strokers hammering legislation. And when it's not them, it's the serious partisans: Members of the leadership and so forth. But it's not because these folks know the most about the legislation, or have the most informative take. It's because these people's statements are the most newsworthy because their votes are the most important.

But that means we center our coverage around the most egotistical and politically motivated legislators, and then we let them explain the substance of policy through their skewed and self-interested lenses. Of course, the people tuning into our shows or reading us don't know that we're doing this to get insight into these legislator's votes and that they should ignore the analysis, as it's coming from some of the least credible players in Congress.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By Ezra Klein  |  March 11, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
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The serious partisans all support this legislation.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 11, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The serious partisans all support this legislation.

They can be found in all sorts of YouTube videos telling their loyal partisan supporters that in order to get their coveted Single-Payer healthcare system they will have to trick the public into voting for this legislation, which not-so-secretly provides the federal government with the necessarily tools to bankrupt the market-driven healthcare system in the United States.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 11, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

What's the dynamic that keeps knowledgeable legislators off the radar? Is it more a matter of ratings, or more about angering the party leaders?

Posted by: jduptonma | March 11, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Resolved: the national press/media is no longer the backbone of democracy, but instead is anti-democratic because it is primarily fashioned around reaching eyeballs for the purposes of making media profits, or for indoctrinating the public with media-giant political axe sharpening and political mayhem regardless of profit.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | March 11, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Not to mention the journalists, but the real indictment here should include this "Pathetic" government" we have in place. Damn few of them have any balls whatsoever!! Yes, that's right, we are involved in two illegal wars, and threatening a third war against Iran, which may well turn into "World War Three". Of course some of us realize that this so-called Federal Government has its strings pulled by a "Shadow Government"...a shadow government of the most wealthy elite on planet earth!! And thus, my answer to this rampant tyranny; stock-up on food, weapons, ammo, and gas, because eventually the "s..t is gonna hit the fan"in the coming months!!

Posted by: sarasota1 | March 11, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Barry O, Dame Pelosi, soon to be former Sen. Reid, as well as Klein and the other liberal media, listen up. Why don't you all stop telling us what you're going to do and do it.

Does your side have the votes or the stones? I doubt it. Empty threats from demagogues.

Pass it or shut-up.

Posted by: superman32 | March 11, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the greater story is how a nut case like this character got elected but then we did elect Obama. Enough said.

Posted by: NeoConVeteran | March 11, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

"But it's not because these folks know the most about the legislation, or have the most informative take."

Nobody really knows what's in this legislation. "We have to pass it so we know what's in it,' according to Speaker Pelosi. Remember.

Posted by: adhemar1 | March 11, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

How about man tickling known by Pelosi since that newsworthy? Liberals want to sweep this away as no news, or even more misconstrued, claiming conservatives are somehow championing Massa. Conservatives think Massa is just as nuts as anyone, but suggesting his abrupt departure has no hint of political expedience by the majority, re health reform legislature, is difficult to swallow.

Health reform legislation has morphed into catnip for Democrats. They talk jobs creation and economic recovery, but devote every waking minute to health care. Congress is pausing today so they can huddle for yet another planning session. It's become manic. They'll do anything...repeat pass this legislation. Let's hope any victory is pyrrhic.

Posted by: ecrutle | March 11, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I just read on Drudge that after visiting his wife in the hospital (there because of a broken neck in a car accident) Harry Reid went back to the capitol to confer with Rahm Emanuel about healthcare. Nothing and no one else matters. It also speaks to the basic incivility, even inhumanity, of Rahm Emanuel.

Posted by: truck1 | March 11, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

To "truck1" -- "Basic incivility"? "Even inhumanity"? While painful, Mrs. Reid's injuries are not life-threatening. What is Sen. Reid supposed to do? Camp out at the hospital? His going back to the business of trying to get health-care reform into law is a measure of his concern not only for his wife's welfare, but for the thousands upon thousands of Americans for whom the excellent treatment she is getting is not possible. The people who are "uncivil" and "inhumane" are the Republicans who don't give a damn how many people die being deprived of medical insurance. In light of their cold-blooded kowtowing to the insurance industry, I think it would behoove you just to keep quiet.

Posted by: momsablogger | March 12, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse

It would "behoove" me? Who speaks like that? Oh wait, maybe you are getting inspiration from the president: I don't want people talking anymore, the time for talking is over, I just want folks to stop talking,...etc. Oh, his wife only had a broken neck but will live. Okay. No, pulling someone away from his spouse's hospital bed for a further session of arm twisting is inhumane. It shows an obsessed will to win. That is really what this is about -- not the people without insurance.

Posted by: truck1 | March 12, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Thank God the Democrats are in charge otherwise we wouldn't even have an Ethics Committee to do an investigation. Let's turn over all the rocks in DC and see what's there. Probably a losing proposition for GOP = Greedy Old Pedophiles.

Posted by: FitterDon | March 12, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

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