September 20, 2007

Krugman is blogging.

I enjoy Paul Krugman's bi-weekly columns (which are now free for all) on NYT a lot. So it is a great pleasure to note that he started blogging on NYT. His blog promises more frequent wisdom and it will surely be a regular for me. There are already two interesting posts.

The first one talks about a telling statistic about the share of the richest 10 percent in American total income. I have never been able to feel certain about what to make of the need for equality. Both extremes - equality is the primary goal or bigger cake ensures bigger slices for everyone - leave me unsatisfied. Be that as it may, the picture painted by the figure in Krugman's post is extremely important.

The second one deals with an issue which I am finding quite fascinating and which is very relevant now: the nature of political coverage, particularly during election campaigns. I am fairly convinced that the media's vision of politics is fundamentally out of tune with the character and requirements of the electorate. A wonderful book is Thomas Patterson's Out of Order. He asserts that the press employs a "game schema" or "strategic schema" when it deals with political candidates (politicians are involved in a horse race in which they are trying to outwit each other by careful strategies of message creation). On the other hand, as Patterson persuasively argues, while the game or strategy aspect is surely present, that is not fundamentally how candidates or public view politics. The book systematically analyzes media coverage during many modern presidential campaigns up to 1992, and every time I read an article on the current campaign I am struck by the relevance of his observations.

Krugman is making the same point in his post. The press is most of the time concerned with how the actions and words of the candidates are going to effect their campaign. So most news now is interpretive. Very rarely the emphasis is on what candidates actually said. Just to cite one example, recently there was a lot of coverage about whether Bill Clinton's appearances help Hillary's campaign. How Bill is trying to make sure he does not outshine his wife and so on.

Patterson is careful to stress however that, this state of affairs is not fundamentally an issue of media's ineptitude. It is in the very nature of news business. So it is also not exclusively an American issue. What is definitely exclusively an American problem is the structure of presidential elections in this country with its elaborate primaries. This system places an inordinately crucial burden on the press to inform the public about relatively unknown and fairly similar same party candidates. This is a burden which the press is not equipped to bear.


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