Sasha Issenberg in the NYT:
It becomes popular around this time of year to lament the fact that media coverage treats the presidential campaign as little more than a “horse race.” Journalists, this line of argument goes, choose to fixate on which candidate is a superior campaigner or savvier strategist, not on who has sounder ideas or is better prepared to govern. From time to time, the journalists themselves concede that to maintain daily or hourly tension in the contests they promote, they have little choice but to elevate minor poll shifts into major developments.
But the reality about horse-race journalism is far more embarrassing to the press and ought to be just as disappointing to the readers who consume our reporting. The truth is that we aren’t even that good at covering the horse race. If the 2012 campaign has been any indication, journalists remain unable to keep up with the machinations of modern campaigns, and things are likely only to get worse.
“My view is that there’s nothing that’s secret in campaigns anymore — but that doesn’t mean everything is understandable in a campaign,” says Terry Nelson, who served as John McCain’s campaign manager in 2008. “The ability of campaigns to run circles around journalists in some places is strong, and it’s not healthy.”
I covered the 2008 election for The Boston Globe, filing articles that I hoped would rise above the superficial and ephemeral poll-driven reporting that I had been trained to disdain. But after spending the last two years reporting on the scientific revolution that is quietly reshaping politics, I realized how much of the story my colleagues and I had missed.