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A Challenge to Political Journalists: Tell Us What We Need To Know

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In the 2000 Presidential election, George W. Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative", and political journalists, mining his history as Texas governor for relevant examples, tended to take him at his word. When, after the debacle of the election, Bush took office as a minority-popular vote President, it was possible to believe--I was one of those believers--that the conditions of his elevation to the Presidency would dictate a consensus-seeking, middle-of-the-road Republican presidency. To quote weapons inspector David Kay, we were all wrong. What's clear now is that Bush and his self-chosen running mate entered office with a strong and clear agenda--most prominently, to vastly increase the power of the executive branch--and took every opportunity to advance that agenda. The millions of words reported before the election prepared us in no way for that reality.

Now we're at the (highly premature) beginning of a new presidential campaign. In the light of recent events, it would seem incumbent on political journalists to bend every effort to tell us not only what we don't know but what we need to know, about the agendas and goals that lie beneath and behind the speeches and ads and polls. We should now be in no doubt about the consequences of our journalists' failure to do so. It's not too strong a statement to say that this job, not reporting on the doings of the Lohans and Hiltons, is why they enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.

Any bets on how well they'll do this time?