But there’s a danger in this approach, which is that ordinary Americans tend to have a lousy grasp of how government works. They might, as one flood victim the Times spoke to did, see a tradeoff between parks and playgrounds (a municipal service) and disaster aid (a federal service). They might have no idea how the government spends its money. And they might think of “Congress” as a single entity that just can’t get its act together.

All of this is understandable—most people have better things to worry about, and besides, representative democracy has never depended on every citizen delving into OMB reports and government org charts. But it does mean that when press accounts simply mirror public frustration with the government, they may not meet their responsibility to explain the source of that frustration—and that doesn’t do the public any good.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.