Klein Whine

Hey Iowa: What About Me?

Iowans, in an effort to preserve their first-in-the-nation status, may caucus on January 3rd and/or fifth this year — a schedule change that could have some unhappy consequences for people planning for the original January 14th date.

For example, Des Moines’ WHO-TV reported that such a scheduling shift could “affect hotels’ bottom lines” (Embassy Suites in Des Moines “stands to lose a fair amount of revenue if the January 3rd date sticks,” because, for one, “every year the hotel has a big New Years Eve bash that typically draws 2,000 to 2,500 people.”)

But how, you’re surely wondering, might the date change affect Time magazine’s Joe Klein (and similarly situated members of the political press)?

Yesterday, Klein outlined his objections to the potential shift on Time’s Swampland blog, calling it “nuts.”

There is a natural arc to news stories—and to the way the news media work. You need about a month—three weeks minimum—for the public to focus in on an election and make up its mind. In recent presidential campaigns, that’s meant the month of January for Iowans: the holidays are digested, the kids are back in school, there’s time to figure out whether Howard Dean is, say, too angry to be a good thing. Or this time: whether we actually want another Clinton presidency.

That sort of rumination disappears with the new schedule…

Hold it. “That sort of rumination disappears with the new schedule?” Bring on the new schedule!

If holding the caucuses in the first week of January truncates media “rumination” (surely, come January, most Iowans have personally ruminated enough to cast an informed vote - without further “focusing” or hand-holding from Klein, et al), disrupts the “natural arc to news stories,” and upsets “the way the news media work,” is any of that necessarily a bad thing? This is the “natural arc,” after all, that four years ago produced the Dean Scream. (Do we really want to ensure that the media has ample time to locate this year’s equivalent?)

Why else does Klein dislike the earlier Iowa timeframe? “Furthermore,” he writes (jokingly, kind of), “we in the mainstream media have our appointed year-end rounds. Ten Best lists. Photos of the Year. Persons of the Year. Presidential politics has intruded in Decembers past, but not as the overpowering story that it needs to be in order to get the general public’s attention.” So, Klein and his peers will be too preoccupied in late December making year-end lists to reduce the race to an “overpowering story” with which to bludgeon to attention voters (who Klein imagines will be) still sluggish from holiday eggnog?

Bring on the new schedule!

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.