Political Animal


April 16, 2013 3:50 PM Useless Scoops

By Ed Kilgore

Like many people who were annoyed by the New York Post’s “scoops” yesterday—early reports claiming, erroneously, that 12 people had died in the Boston bombings, and that police were zeroing in on two suspects (one of whom was a “Saudi national,” and another who had dark skin and a “foreign accent”), I really appreciated Paul Waldman’s meditation today at TAP on real and bogus “scoops:”

There are two kinds of scoops, the real and the ephemeral. A real scoop is a story that would not have come to light, either at all or at least for a considerable amount of time, had it not been for your reporting. When a reporter exposes corruption, or details the unforeseen consequences of official policy, or even just offers a compelling portrait of people whose story wouldn’t have otherwise been told, she has gotten a genuine scoop. Then there’s the far more common kind, what many in the media consider a scoop but is no scoop at all. That’s when you discover and publish some piece of information that everyone is going to learn very soon, but you happen to be the one who got it out ten minutes or ten seconds before your competitors….
Media organizations, particularly television news operations, are obsessed with this second kind of scoop, despite the fact that not only does it offer nothing of value to their audience, it doesn’t even give them any advantage in the hyper-competitive arena in which they operate. Nobody ever said, “I used to watch MSNBC, but then I heard that CNN went on the air with the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial a full 30 seconds before any other network, so I’m watching CNN from now on.” When everybody is going to have a piece of news in seconds, getting it first doesn’t help you at all. Nobody remembers and nobody cares, nor should they.
But if you’re obsessed with getting it first, you end up not getting it right.

That happened with the New York Post, whose dubious stories from Boston have remained at the top of the aggregator I use most for two straight days, and it happened even more notoriously last summer with both CNN and Fox News sending out false reports on the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision because their reporters raced off to file after listening to the first couple of sentences of the decision’s announcement.

Unfortunately, when it comes to political news, this media obsession with “firster faster” reflects the inbred habits of Our Nation’s Capital, where the currency of routine conversation is often (as I used to mockingly say) to know something completely unimportant a few minutes before the person with whom you are talking. Sometimes Politico exemplifies and even parodies this vice, but by no means invented it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 16, 2013 4:05 PM:

    You know what? I got the most unsuspected surprise when I went to the gym last night. The satellite network was down so there was absolutely no coverage from CNN of the Boston bombings on the locker room flat screens. I was actually relieved by that stroke of luck.

    It's not just "firster faster", it's news coverage that's "longer and, well, LONGERER". I was thankful to spared around-the-clock-live-from-the-mayhem coverage, which at this point would have been nothing but a woefully uninformed speculation-fest of what maybe might have possibly coulda happened.

  • schtick on April 16, 2013 4:20 PM:

    There will be nothing on the media for the next six months except the bombings. Even if they find out who is responsible, nothing but the bombings will be front and center and repeated with the same clips and pictures and speculation 24/7.

    Meanwhile, immigration reform, gun control, social security, etc., will get a pass and laws will get passed that people don't want because the media will be ignoring what is going on in Congress and the states.

    Does anyone remember what was on the news for three weeks straight before 9/11? I do. It was all shark attacks. There was no increase in shark attacks, but the news every night was full of shark attacks and speculation. The media does not know what news is nor how to report it anymore and since 9/11 it's been politics 24/7 with all the lies and no journalism.

  • Kevin (not the famous one) on April 16, 2013 4:48 PM:

    If we still have any liberties that haven't been compromised, now is the time to fix that.

    and what schtick said

  • c u n d gulag on April 16, 2013 4:56 PM:

    schtick is right.

    But, in 'the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, 2001, there continued to be the post-Clinton dog-pile on the Democrats with penises - Gary Condit was also in the news for for being a different kind of shark - another one who had an affair with an intern.
    But, this one disappeared.
    Presumed murdered by him.

    It was years later that we learned that intern Chandra Levy was killed by a serial killer, and not the Democratic Congressman.

    The poor SOB's career was ruined.
    Oh, well...

    "Little Boots" got his war(s).

  • jkl; on April 16, 2013 7:35 PM:

    Already the stories of McConnell's ethical blight are diminished, even with the suit by CREW.
    Sneaks like Ryan are developing new ways to attack the poor, elderly, disabled and disadvantaged as well.
    Still--lots of bad press abounds this week about Republicans, Condi and Bush II ignoring the PDI as comparisons are made to 9/11, I notice. And the right wing echo chamber is looking bad too.

  • Overnearexy on April 17, 2013 4:38 AM: