The Plank

So Much For Those Hard-nosed, Cynical Journalists

Journalists--particularly political journalists--are often unflatteringly portrayed as die-hard cynics. Indeed, some clearly relish the image of themselves as world-weary, seen-it-all veterans. But I've always been skeptical of this characterization. In part, this is because I tend to think that a key element of cynicism is the belief that nothing really ever changes, whereas I've always been struck by how eager journalists are to declare mold-breaking, paradigm-shifting, watershed moments. Admittedly, some of this may stem from the fact that declaring such moments makes for more dramatic stories. But years of up-close observation have convinced me that, more often than not, journalists really buy into the everything-will-be-different-from-now-on message they're pedaling: whether it was how America's heart and soul had been transformed by September 11th (everyone remember the "death of irony"?) or how Hurricane Katrina was going to reshape everything from how well we prep for natural disasters to how much attention we pay to poor folks.

This week, happily, the everything-has-changed moment is vastly more upbeat and (to borrow the man-of-the-hour's theme) hopeful. Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses. Decisively. Against the terrifying, politics-as-usual Clinton machine. And true to form, journalists and pundits are bursting with enthusiasm and awe over What It All Means and Where It All Might Lead. Much of the Fourth Estate looks and sounds downright giddy--even "straight news" reporters who aren't supposed to express their personal opinions on such matters. We're like teenagers in love or spiritual seekers having stumbled upon a new guru.

It's sweet when you think about it. And even if it all winds up vanishing because of developments in New Hampshire or South Carolina or some other point down the trail, it has been a telling moment. Journalists may be jaded, but we're still clearly as desperate to be inspired and swept away as anyone. Arguably even more so.

--Michelle Cottle

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