This year, we in New York's 24th congressional district have the opportunity to learn a great deal about the way that politics works - and the way that political reporting works as well. We can watch the way that the political organizations work here in our district - one of the top targets for Republicans and Democrats alike this year, and we can also watch the way that the national news media does its work in reporting on this race.
So far, it all seems to be happening from afar, and that's especially the case for the political reporting in the national press. It started back during the primary season, when political journals like The Cook Political Report told us back here which candidates the voters favored - before the voters even really had a chance to learn who the candidates were and what they stood for. The "reporting" on our congressional race seemed to be based on nothing more than a few telephone calls to insiders in organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The remote reporting continues now, as national political journalists seem to regard the story of our congressional race not so much about the candidates and the issues we care about here as the way that our district can be used as a tool for the national Republican and Democratic parties. This week, for example, Devlin Barrett wrote an article for the Associated Press about the advertisement Michael Arcuri ran blasting Ray Meier's refusal to support a raise in the minimum wage. The primary angle of the article: DCCC spends money in 24th District.
The second angle: The DCCC money pays for an ad playing in Syracuse, Utica and Binghampton.
The third angle: Arcuri will refuse a pay raise. Meier accepted a pay raise, after voting against it, and Arcuri accepted a pay raise.
The fourth angle: A little something about the minimum wage... What was it again?.. Oh, yes, the whole point of the TV ad: Michael Arcuri supports a raise in the minimum wage, and Ray Meier is against raising the minimum wage.
The minimum wage angle, as far as the people of the 24th district are concerned, is the most important point. We none of us will pay lower taxes on account of a reduction in the salary of members of Congress, state senators, or district attorneys. An increase in the minimum wage would affect us all.
So, why didn't Devlin Barrett emphasize that issue, and talk about how it would impact our district? Why didn't he write about how people in our district feel about this issue?
The answer is simple and sad: Pure laziness. Reporting on the minimum wage issue as it affects our district might have required Devlin Barrett to leave his office and actually come to our district. These days, it seems, reporting on congressional campaigns, even really important ones like the one in our district, is mostly done through telephone calls, emails, and a web browser. The sources that count aren't the voters in our district, but the power brokers who look at our district as a piece of territory to be conquered.
It's easy, it's quick, and most people in the state and national audience won't know the difference. For those who actually want to know about the race and its issues, it's poor service. This lazy reporting also leads congressional candidates to follow the lead of the political reporters, and spend more of their time courting the favor of national power brokers than they do reaching out to voters here in our district.
The problems in our political system are accompanied by problems in our journalistic infrastructure. If we want to actually be represented in Washington, and not just have the 24th district serve as a tool for national political interests, then we need to find a way to have our local voices heard through this campaign. Doing so involves reading the national news media with a more critical eye - and talking back when the only news they have to report about our district is the babble bouncing around the echo chamber of reporters' offices in Washington D.C.