Monday, 11:00 PM: Driving home, I try to collect my thoughts. Over the past day-and-a-half I had put about 300 miles on my rental car, toured the state’s finest auditoria, and learned little that would be of interest to the voters of New Hampshire and the wider nation; at this point, with the day winding down, I was so exhausted by the grind that I just wanted to file something and go to bed. My experience, brief though it was, is not unusual. I talked to a reporter covering the Paul campaign for a major US daily who had been to four Paul events that day, gotten lost while trying to make it to a fifth, spent several hours driving from one to the other, and was all the while trying to figure out how to get a story from four staged events at which the candidate said essentially the same thing that he says at every campaign event.
When a candidate never says anything that’s substantively new, the campaign-trail media ends up reporting on the way that the same old message is delivered; on deviations in tone, phrasing, temperament. The delivery becomes the story, and the smallest, least consequential deviations from the candidate’s standard delivery are mistaken for news. The public would almost certainly be better served if, rather than acting as a barometer of political inflection, the media spent more time truth-testing a candidate’s assertions and ads. But, from the reporter’s point of view, it’s hard to delve into factuality when your primary concern is the shortest route to the next event.
The obvious answer is to get off the trail and find your own story. But that’s easier said than done. When you get on the follow-‘em-around track, well, it’s obvious that you’re going to end up writing campaign stories. That’s the only sort of story the grind really allows you to do. More thoughts on this soon.