Foreign Policy and the Press

There’s been a lot of back and forth about David Signer’s WaPo piece this weekend taking the major media to task for ignoring foreign policy in its coverage of the presidential campaign. Ilan Goldenberg at Democracy Arsenal has got all the links and some original insights that warrant a glance.

I’d add that part of the problem has to do not with a lack of interest so much as a sense even among journalists that foreign policy is better left to experts and the specialized press. Most people are comfortable discussing the political calculus of tax cuts, even if they aren’t economists. Same goes for universal healthcare or education reform and a whole host of other domestic policy issues. But how many people really have an opinion on the expansion of NATO into Russia’s periphery, or the best way to counter Chavez-style neo-Bolivarism in South America? Both foreign and domestic policy have concrete impacts on the lives of the end consumer of the news, but the former (outside of the big ticket items) are often more indirect than the latter, and more difficult to trace. Hence less coverage.

I’m also not sure how relevant it is to talk about foreign policy when what we really mean is a multitude of foreign policies, some broad and regional, others more narrow and local. Ideally they form a coherent strategic whole, but sometimes the result ends up being something of a patchwork of contingency and convenience that combines to offer a least bad rather than an ideal approach. While Matthew Yglesias is right in saying that the president has far greater control over foreign policy than domestic policy, it is often in the form of reacting to events on the ground rather than formulating and implementing a grand strategy. Which leaves me somewhat immune to foreign policy white papers and addresses, as well as the coverage they might inspire.

Meanwhile, although the major media has been remiss in this regard, the foreign policy press has been consistently doing its job. Case in point is Ximena Ortiz’s rundown of the three remaining candidates’ foreign policy records, statements and agendas. None of them gets off easy, but Barack Obama scores some points for owning up to it when he changes his position. Worth a read.

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