Press Contrition Over Clark Coverage?

About all those election-related “media firestorms over supposedly revealing incidents that never actually took place,” as Paul Krugman described them in his column* Friday (What Wes Said being the most recent, Howard Dean’s “scream” being a familiar one from four years ago): Are we likely to see more of them between now and November; and, how much do they actually impact elections?

Krugman’s glass is half-full:

[M]y sense, though it’s hard to prove, is that the press is feeling a bit ashamed about the way it piled on General Clark. If so, news organizations may think twice before buying into the next fake scandal.

If so, the campaign has just taken a major turn in Mr. Obama’s favor. After all, if this campaign isn’t dominated by faux outrage over fake scandals, it will have to be about things that really did happen, like a failed economic policy and a disastrous war — both of which Mr. McCain promises will continue if he wins.

I haven’t gotten a “lesson learned” vibe from the campaign press — but here’s hoping.

Matthew Yglesias feels less hopeful: “If Democrats are really counting on responsible, substantive news coverage to hand them the election then John McCain has things in the bag.” And on whether “media firestorms over supposedly revealing incidents that never actually took place” matter, he adds:

I find it hard to believe that, in general, the overall tenor of the media’s coverage of silly campaign stories has a huge impact on election outcomes. Indeed, that’s probably one reason why the quality is so low — the stories are being produced by people who don’t really think their work matters.

While the low self-esteem part sounds plausible to me, on the part about the -Gates not mattering so much, I am more of the mind of one of Yglesias’ readers who commented: “Right. Lucy Van Pelt called. She has a football she’d like you to kick.”

*NAME CHECK: Yup, that was Justin’s post on Clark coverage that Krugman quoted mid-column.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.