Given the choice between Woodward's consistently serious, albeit flawed books -- which always carry with them an air of professionalism and class -- versus the flashy, hollow, click-through brand of journalism championed by Game Change, I'll take Woodward's approach every time. Because despite their flaws, Woodward's books are mostly about policy, about historic White House initiatives and how they get made, including all the backroom administration wrangling involved. Game Change, by comparison, rarely aspires to be more than a gossip clearinghouse. (And, yes, that's why The Village loves the book.)
After finishing Game Change, I'd be surprised if many readers had any deeper understanding of why the central players ran for president, or of the platforms on which they campaigned. Game Change, like the Beltway press, doesn't do public policy. It doesn't even do candidate profiles. Instead, the book is quite literally a celebration of (gossipy) process over substance, and is just as often relentlessly -- and gratuitously -- unserious and mean. It's filled with wildly one-sided, stick-figure portraits of the campaign's major players. (Elizabeth Edwards "barked," "snarled," "badgered," and "berated" her husband's campaign aides, all on one page.)
So, if Game Change represents some kind of change in the Beltway media guard -- after all, Game Change Central (aka Politico) last week dubbed co-author Mark Halperin "the high priest of establishment political journalism" -- then I'm going to resist change to cling to the Woodward model of elite Beltway reporting.
It was Woodward, of course, who practically trademarked the omniscient, trust-me approach to inner-circle reporting as he re-created scenes as well as extended dialogues, often without explaining to readers exactly who his sources were. (And, yes, that led to legitimate debate about his reporting methods.) It's the same trick Halperin and co-author John Heilemann try in Game Change in hopes of creating a "sweeping, novelistic" feel.
A key difference, though, is that Woodward employs a velvet writing touch, as compared to the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer style of Heilemann and Halperin, who, along with their score-settling sources, bury most of their key players under a pile of invective. In other words, in Woodward's books, most of the key players don't come off looking like assholes. In Game Change, they do.
Read the full Media Matters column here.
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