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"Washington Week"

by Jay Rosen

"Safety first" is not a good principle in television programming or political journalism. I wish PBS understood this. But it doesn't, and that is why we still have Friday night's "Washington Week," a show produced by WETA that is now in its 43rd year.

This amazing longevity counts neither for nor against it. What is exhausted is the premise of the show: Five insiders (journalists) display their understanding of what other insiders (politicians) did this week for an audience of wanna-be insiders (the show's assumption about viewers).

Host Gwen Ifill and panelists such as The Washington Post's Dan Balz, the New York Times' Peter Baker and CNN's Gloria Borger are pros; they've mastered their business. And that's the problem. They're in the same business as the people they cover -- the game of professional politics, also called the permanent campaign.

As lifers in this game, they share a sensibility with their subjects: that in politics savviness is next to godliness, and everything's really about the next election.

Because the boundaries of political debate in Washington are also the horizons of the discussion on "Washington Week," the show has no grace, mystery, edge or dissonant voice. What if the system is broken, the political elite is failing the country, accountability is a mirage and the game is a farce run by well-educated people who manipulate the symbols of the republic? Whenever those things are true, "Washington Week" becomes a lie. And around that lie the show's producers have put yellow caution tape.

Jay Rosen is a journalism professor at New York University and the author of the PressThink blog.

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