Political journalism and sports journalism have a lot in common. Too much in common. Starting with their both being essentially a matter of creating fictions and then reporting on those fictions as if they are facts.
They’re both based on storytelling, which means that the reporting is character-driven, personality-driven. Both retail gossip and rumor. Both revel in sensation, spectacle, voyeurism, scandal, and controversy because those things make stories more dramatic and drama sells. Both encourage and reward idle speculation. What might happen, what could have happened, what didn’t happen are all “reported” and “analyzed” with the same attention, interest, and seriousness as what actually did happen. In neither field are analysts who repeatedly get things wrong in danger of losing their jobs. Just the opposite, in many cases, because on their way to getting things wrong they demonstrate a talent for sensationalism, spectacle-gazing, window-peeping, scandal-mongering, and generating controversy and, like I said, all that sells. It’s better for your career to be consistently wrong in a way that excites readers and viewers and gets and keeps them reading and watching than to be right in a way that has the paying customers leaving the page or changing the channel.
But the most infuriating thing they have in common is an intrinsic problem, which is this:
Both political journalism and sports journalism are endeavors in which people who aren’t as smart, as knowledgeable, as talented, as skilled, or as accomplished as the people they cover see it as their job to tell us why all those smart, knowledgeable, talented, skilled, and accomplished people aren’t doing their jobs right.
Sports journalism treats games as if they’re matters of life and death. Political journalism treats matters of life and death as if they’re all part of a game.
None of this matters very much in the grand scheme of things when it comes to sports journalism. Nobody lives or dies because of who wins the World Series.
Same can’t be said of political journalism where it’s a question of who “wins” the debates over climate change, health care, food stamps, rebuilding the infrastructure, protecting women’s rights and health, deciding which immigrants get to stay in the country, whose family counts as a family, who gets to see a doctor, who gets to eat tonight, or whether to start a war.