As a pundit and critic, Friedersdorf is free to ground his writing in his own political values, and he’s frustrated that other media professionals—many of whom, he says, are also sympathetic to the libertarian critique of the drug war and foreign policy—don’t give Johnson’s and Paul’s dissents a fair hearing. But mainstream political reporters, of course, are traditionally taught not to write through the prism of their own views, insofar as that’s possible. That leaves them needing some outside authority to validate a losing issue position as worthy of attention—and the “bipartisan consensus” is one such authority.
Friedersdorf is right about the problematic consequences of this system. And there’s a good case to be made that campaign reporting would be more interesting, more informative, and more useful if it were undertaken by reporters who hold a well-defined (and known-to-readers) set of political values—especially when those values are in tension with the bipartisan consensus. In fact, The Atlantic has been trying just this approach, to good effect, with Will Wilkinson’s dispatches from Iowa. I’d love to see Radley Balko do the same for Huffington Post.
But the traditional approach will probably be with us for a while. And as long as it does, there’s a puzzle for critics: Can you imagine a way for the press to identify the “right” dissents to pay attention to that doesn’t boil down to, “report from a perspective that privileges my personal political values”?