Sometime this fall, when I look back on my summer vacation at the Democratic National Convention, what I'll remember most is the Night of the Great Media Navel Watch.
It began inauspiciously enough when my typing computer broke down, taking 40 lines of copy into the Never-Never Land of Lost Words. You haven't truly suffered in this world until you have been faced with the prospect of reconstructing 400 words at 10:15 p.m. y
In any case, while I was deciding whether to slit my wrists, I turned around and saw my colleague, Curtis Wilkie, writing a story.
This was not in itself unusual. But behind him was Time Magazine's Steve Smith writing a story about Curtis Wilkie.
Even this was not so unusual this convention season. But that same day The New York Times carried a picture of Time Magazine's Steve Smith writing about The Boston Globe's Curtis Wilkie. Are you still with me?
Now I am sitting here writing a story about a reporter who wrote a story about a reporter who wrote a story about a reporter who wrote a story. This should qualify me for the incestuous media story of the year, but I am not sure. The competition has been pretty heavy.
I don't tell you about this bizarre night to surprise you with the fact that the conventions were congested by media people. You already know that. In New York, there were 11,500 reporters, editors, cameramen, broadcasters, technicians, etc., compared to 3,331 delegates. There were probably more people reporting this event at any given moment than watching or reading about it.
Rather, I tell you this because it leads to the next logical question. Why? Why do we devote more money, space and energy to presidential politics than to the next six subjects? Why were there more media people in New York than in Vietnam in 1968?
Well, reason No. 1 -- the one presented to network comptrollers and civic classes -- is that the making of a president of the United States is the single biggest story of the year. Ready or not, like it or not, there it is. This fact justifies the presence of, say, one-quarter to one-third of the media people and one-fifth to two-fifths of the coverage.
Which brings us to reason No. 2. There is an absolute built-in bias of journalism toward politics. This is not a conspiracy, nor is it something loathsome and suspect. It just is.
If you go through the lists of newspaper editors and managing editors of what are always called the "major metropolitan dailies," you will find that a huge number of them, except for Lou Grant, came up through the political reporter ranks. This is largely true for anchor-people as well.
The traditional route up the ladder of journalism follows, literally and metaphorically, the political route up. It goes from city hall to state house to Washington bureau to the editor's chair. At that point the editor is interested in . . . guess what?
If you guessed "politics," you win the Kewpie doll.
What happens then is what happens in any business. If the president of the corporation is continually drawn from, say, the marketing division, ambitious people want to go into marketing. In turn, the marketing gets more attention, more panache.
There are a score of other reasons, too. But it's fair to say that in journalism one's power and status is more or less defined by the amount of power and status held by the people the reporter covers. The political reporter is also, as one colleague told me, a sports reporter gone straight.
Journalists find the allure of conventions and presidential politics fairly irrestible, although it is more sophisticated to say things like, "Oh jeez, I gotta go to New York next week."
I don't think this is a bad system. It just tends to skew things a bit. It means that 11,500 media people cover 3,331 delegates.
It means that we will end up overkilling politics this season, burying other stories under the mounds of political sports copy -- Who's on first? What's on second? I dunno who's on third.
The irony is that this year the public is "disaffected," we are told. They are watching and reading less and less about politics. What can we, the hopeless media addicts, do? We can write tons about that, too.