Saturday, 04 February 2023

Annan Jensen: Pack punditry and predictions

Print reporters love to repeat an old joke about television reporters: if they had been covering the Lincoln assassination, they would have asked "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you feel about the play?"

Tuesday's news coverage of the New Hampshire primaries seemed to be taking that hypothetical question as Journalism 101 instruction, as the press roared into reaction to Hillary Clinton's emotional moment on Monday.

Did she cry? Or did she just mist up a little? How did Barack Obama react, and how did the Clinton camp react to Obama's reaction? And what did Gloria Steinem have to say? And did other feminists agree with Gloria or not? Did John Edwards betray himself as a nonfeminist?

It was a slimy perfect example of pack journalism, as explained to us in 1973 by Timothy Crouse in "The Boys on the Bus," his book about life on the road covering the 1972 presidential campaigns.

There was actually other news on Tuesday. The United States Chamber of Commerce announced it plans an all-out attack on candidates professing populism. NBC said it would air a bare-bones version of the Golden Globes awards Sunday night because of the writers strike. The stock market tumbled when an AT&T executive talked about an economic slowdown.

And the endless wave of primary gossip and speculation rolled on, as if New Hampshire were the general election. As if we didn't still have South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan and the primaries in 24 Super Tuesday states on Feb. 5.

It's embarrassing to see the hysteria of the pack. Makes me wonder if they're now getting bonuses based on the number of words they file, or if they delude themselves that a majority of the voting public actually cares about the trivia they're reporting. It would be such a relief if some of them could bring themselves to ask the candidates for their reactions to the other news of the day.

Still, Tuesday's political news was not a total loss. The Miami Herald, often good for a laugh, dredged up an old story about election predictions by the Santería spirits. It involves a fable about a coconut and is pretty much incomprehensible, except for the last sentence: "Perhaps the deep message of the 'saints' is that it's still a horse race and too early to be collecting winnings."

Sophie Annan Jensen is a retired journalist. She lives in Lucerne.


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