There’s a lot of justified buzz about what a bad job Matt Lauer did in his interview of the candidates last night. Jon Chait labeled Lauer’s decisions about what to focus on and his failure of critical follow-ups as “pathetic” and I agree. Awfully hard to make this democracy thing work when the information intermediaries fail to do their job.
But what, exactly, is that job? Is it not perfectly rationale for high-ranking members of the media–information gatekeepers with the power to influence election outcomes–to gin up a close horse race?
The is not a Palin-bash of the “lame-stream” media. I’m sure there’s a selection bias in play, but I work with the media every day and have almost uniformly good experiences with people trying to understand and convey their and my best understanding of what’s actually going on in the economy.
I’m just making the obvious point that the Lauer-level media has a financial incentive to do what they can to both keep the race closer than it might otherwise be and avoid the appearance of taking sides. I’m not sure they respond to those incentives but it would certainly explain why you’d be hesitant to check facts and go easier on the candidate that’s behind in the polls.
It would also explain Chris Wallace’s recent assertion that he would not try to call out falsehoods when he moderates one of the presidential debates: “That’s not my job…I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad.”
Such a position underscores that key intermediaries do not view this process to be about providing the electorate with the information we need to make an informed choice.
Which begs the question, what is it about? Well, I’ve long found that you’ll rarely go wrong if you follow the money, and the incentives push the wrong way here, where the right way is informed journalists pushing candidates to honestly represent their positions and when they won’t, calling them on it.