PG: I like to go places abroad most of the time that are big important stories that I feel for some reason are not getting the attention they deserve. I never went to Iraq, I never went to Bosnia, I didn’t go to Afghanistan. These seemed to be things that were not lacking for American press attention. Whereas when I went to Rwanda I was really the only full-time journalist there from a non-wire service for months at a time. That’s a whole country whose problems shift over the borders into neighboring countries. There was a sense of really having it to oneself, having a different opportunity and burden. Here, you’ve got a bazillion reporters, the press is part of the story, it’s performed for press — the whole campaign — and you are just one of many, many, many reporters. On the other hand, it is a tremendously important story this year…

It’s really fascinating to be reminded that in 2000 the biggest complaint of disaffected voters was that there was really no way to tell the two candidates apart. Nader’s popularity was based on this idea that they were the same. You could read very respectable newspapers, virtually every newspaper in the country had at least somebody or other who was more or less saying this as a regular refrain — eh, these guys, one way or the other, they’re both moderate centrists, etc. Big mistake. But there was this feeling also that people liked it that way, there was this idea that the center of American politics should be a matter of gray shading.

Well, this time around you have two campaigns that are really painting a strong contrast, and that’s interesting. And I think that affects a lot how one covers it. The partisanship is more or less inescapable, the extent to which a kind of toxic, inflamed, extreme set of positions is often there, the way that these wedge issues work alongside really big issues. American campaigns have just an incredible amount of frivolity about them. Even in a serious time like this there is a lot of nonsense and diversion. You’ve got all this stuff —whether it’s this silliness of Teresa Heinz’s “shove it” remark … I’m trying to think of five of the petty fusses that we’ve had this time around. Does Kerry or does Kerry not drive an SUV. Who cares? It’s stupid of him to say it’s his family’s car or something, but is this an important question when the question is whether or not we were taken to war on false pretenses? And how come this Abu Ghraib story has disappeared? Or the way that a wedge issue like gay marriage got sort of thrown out there for no apparent reason except to try to create some political capital out of it … These are interesting issues but they often get lost in this fog of the day-to-day parade of the campaign. I guess one of the things that is challenging to me is to try to figure out how to look at those issues in ways that still have some drama, narrative and actually something to discuss.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.