Lecturer assesses current state of political journalism

Rani Gupta and Rani Gupta

If journalists don’t address the public’s genuine concerns during political campaigns, news coverage will continue to seem as “boring” as November’s presidential election’s two indistinct candidates, the editor of The New Republic said Friday at Harris Hall.

Peter Beinart, editor of the weekly political magazine, spoke to a crowd of about 60 people as part of the Medill School of Journalism’s Crain Lecture Series, an event co-sponsored by the Communication Studies Department.

“Unless political magazines cover issues at the very heart of American politics, they will suffer the same triviality, the same creeping cynicism as other political organizations,” Beinart said.

During Beinart’s speech, “Do Political Magazines Understand Politics?” he criticized publications’ failure to address the most important issues in politics.

Much of the problem, Beinart said during the speech results from the way the Democratic and Republican parties’ positions on vital political issues have converged over the years.

In the 1980s, Beinart said, politics were defined by economic, cultural and foreign-policy debates. However, the two major parties have adopted a left-wing approach to cultural issues and a right-wing approach to economic policy, he said.

“The debate doesn’t even look like a debate at all,” Beinart said. “It looks like a consensus.”

This consensus has led to “hollow and meaningless” debates that no longer pit strong ideologies against each other, but quibble on minor distinctions like a broad versus more targeted tax cut, Beinart said.

For instance, Beinart noted that liberals no longer try to redistribute wealth and that no one but the “most deluded of the Republican party” believes that President Bush will overturn Roe v. Wade.

He said political magazines focus on the trivial distinctions between the major candidates. In this respect, political magazines fail to spur debate as the third-party candidates do.

“What the protest candidates provide are answers,” Beinart said. “And political journalism needs to think much more seriously about that than we are.”

After the talk, Beinart said that he hoped to reform his magazine by “making more of an effort to write about politics as it’s expressed from outside formal political institutions.”

“We should write from the bottom up and about the way politics comes out of people’s lives,” Beinart said.

Rebecca Smith, a Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary graduate student, said she found Beinart’s analysis of the third-party candidates interesting.

“He talked about how similar the people for Buchanan and Nader are because they both want authenticity,” she said. “It’s different from the conventional wisdom.”