Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, trying to make sense of the story last Saturday, wrote that, “what we really need is for some longtime Michigan reporter to weigh in.” As far as I can tell, that still hasn’t really happened. There have been plenty of blog posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example) and commentary pieces, but no authoritative reported account I’ve seen that could sort this story out for someone who came to it after seeing Maddow’s show.
It’s understandable that traditional statehouse reporters might be unwilling to take on story assignments that amount to following up on a national broadcaster who has a clear political point of view—especially when they’re keenly aware of the shortcomings in her show’s reporting. Pluta, for one, sees Maddow as operating in wholly different realm than he does: “Is it her job to tell the entire story?” he said to me. “I don’t know. Or is she supposed to lead the view to a particular point of view?”
Pluta could have told Maddow that the events leading to her “scoop” reflected “an incremental advancement of a culture that’s been in place since 1963,” as much as a sudden coup. He also pointed out that back when the 90-day provision was put in place, legislative sessions were much shorter, so there was less incentive to resort to “immediate effect.” The insider knowledge that he and other Statehouse reporters, like Livengood, possess would have bolstered Maddow’s reporting.
On the other hand, the fact that legislative railroading has become standard practice for both political parties does not make it consistent with the state constitution, and just because “this is how things are done” does not make something un-newsworthy. Michigan’s courts will ultimately rule on the legality of the “immediate effect” practice. But Maddow’s position as someone who wasn’t immersed in the day-to-day “spats” of the legislature (combined, to be sure, with her politics) led her to put a sudden spotlight on an issue that may have been too endemic to be visible to insiders.
On her Monday night segment, Maddow vowed to stay on the story playing out in Michigan. I hope she does: an outsider’s eye on the state government can offer a valuable perspective on what seem to be dubious governing principles. But Maddow must bring much more skepticism and restraint to her story, and she would be wise to tap into the deep knowledge held by Michigan’s Statehouse press corps: by obscuring basic facts, she’s undermining herself.
At the same time, Michigan’s reporters should acknowledge Maddow’s influence, and provide a timely and comprehensive account of the story for those who want more depth in the wake of her broadcasts. And while it is easy—and important—to critique Maddow for her errors, Michigan’s journalists might also acknowledge where she is right: that this is a story that resonates beyond election-year politicking.