Are journalists stupid to talk about whether voters are stupid?

Slate | Politico | The New York Times

Dave Weigel says it would be journalistic malpractice to not report on the dumb voters one encounters on the campaign trail: "There’s a big difference," he writes, between "random voter interviews and 'nutpicking,' when only the craziest, most bigoted clowns at some event are photographed and quoted."

But the most exotic participants in United States electoral politics, Weigel says, don't swing elections: "There are Mississippi Republicans who hate Obama because they think he’s a Muslim. Take that away, and they’ll hate him because they’re conservatives and he isn’t. Only 11 percent of Mississippi whites voted for Barack Obama, but only 14 percent voted for John Kerry."

The are-voters-stupid issue kicked off last week with a piece in Politico that attenuated its criticisms of U.S. voters a little finer than Weigel; Alexander Burns may have wanted to talk about why voters blame incumbent presidents for high gas prices despite the Oval Office having little sway over them, but his point got a little swamped by the photo of Forrest Gump atop his piece.

David Carr groups the bad optics of Burns' story with Newt Gingrich's attacks on the elite media. "A little memo to both Mr. Gingrich and Politico: Many people in America are struggling with brutal choices, like whether to pay for child care or medical coverage, so forgive them if they are not completely up to date on every nuance of the Beltway politics parlor game. It’s too bad that the primary process involves messy things like actual voters and a grimy press corps, but nobody ever said democracy would be pretty."

Actual elites are far too PR-savvy to be drawn into a debate about whether the people on whom they depend for their livings are boneheads. Talking this stuff out makes for gruesome headlines, but doing it in public is a net positive for journalists, no matter how many future applause lines it gives Newt Gingrich.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.

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