If you asked me what was wrong with big-league political reporting in this country, I'd say its biggest problem is that is has too much in common with big league sports writing. Reporters like Adam Nagourney and John Harris don't lack for expertise in politics, after all. They have trainloads of it. Their problem is precisely that they treat politics the way sportwriters treat baseball: as a game, in which both sides are equivalent, you're not supposed to play favorites, you favor polls and statistics over substantive (but boring!) analysis, trivia is a source of endless fascination, and a clever bon mot is irresistable regardless of whether it's actually fair or accurate.
He even has the backing of a scientist (and scientists, all good liberals agree, are never wrong)
When you hear Woody Paige or Jay Marriotti say something jaw-droppingly asinine about Barry Bonds or Tiger Woods or whoever, remember that these guys are [like big-name political journalists] at the very top of their profession.
These are to some extent two arguments whizzing past each other. But I think Kevin has the best of this one. Forget for a moment the fact that high-tier political reporters and high-tier sports reporters share many of the same flaws, because it almost doesn't matter. Somehow it works out that Americans who follow, say, baseball are extremely fluent in the history, statistics, controversies, and technical minutae of baseball, while Americans who follow politics know politics at only the most superficial level. Somewhere along the way, sports fans become very well educated while people interested in politics get terribly short changed.
It's wrong to think, though, that this disparity is due to the fact that sports reporters know their beats better. Lacking a shred of evidence, I'd chalk this up to an intensity difference. There are millions of sports fans in the country, a large subset of whom are deeply committed to their favorite sports, and, as such, it's easy to find reams of serious sports analysis on ESPN roundups, live events, and in newspapers nationwide. But of the millions of Americans who follow politics, only a rarified set of political junkies--a tiny market share--demand to know politics to the same extent that prominent bloggers do. So we get Nagourney and Harris. The solution to this, though, is that the Nagourneys and Harrises of the world should provide the right information in their articles.
Yes we should hope reporters have great amounts of expertise. I think it's likely, though, that at top tier newspapers they already have more than enough. What they lack, though, is a sense that the information they choose to report is much too superficial to educate their readers.