Ballot Box

No Column Today. Sorry

DES MOINES, Iowa–I can think of three possibilities for today’s dispatch, none of them appealing.

One option would be to write a straightforward piece about how well the various candidates are likely to do in the caucuses tonight and analyze what it means for New Hampshire and the rest of the campaign. There are many compelling reasons for not doing this. The first is my view that the least interesting question in any campaign is “Who’s going to win?” Horse-race journalism is boring because it drowns out more useful inquiry into background, character, style, and policies. And with hundreds of reporters speculating in sync, on the basis of the same polls, it becomes pointlessly redundant as well. For a journalist like me, making predictions hours in advance of a definitive result also risks needless embarrassment. It’s giving a hostage to fortune–and begging fortune to shoot.

A second choice would be to write a press story about the media horde descending on Iowa. This does offer some decent comic possibilities. I could describe the scene last night when Jack Ford of Good Morning America tried to interview Bill Bradley in the middle of a big rally at Drake University, where the audience had been standing and waiting for the candidate for a couple of hours. As Ford tried unsuccessfully to shush 1,000 annoyed students, real event defeated media spectacle. It might also be worth pointing out the way in which the hundreds of pundits pontificating on the race tend to ignore what’s actually happening on the trail. Yesterday, Bill Bradley was giving the most spirited performances I have ever seen from him, to rapturous campus audiences, just as most of the press was describing him as throwing in the towel. But there’s a problem with this idea, too, which is that with so many underemployed reporters running around, the media-overkill story has become another hopeless cliché. Even CNN, which has 200 people in Iowa, kvetches about the press frenzy. I could write about the media’s excessive coverage of the media’s excessive coverage, but this idea makes my head hurt.

The final possibility would be an impressionistic, reporter’s-notebook-type description of my visit to the Hawkeye State. I could describe the “Stockholm syndrome” on the Gore and Bradley press buses, and the scene in the Marriott bar last night. I could complain about the wretched food, the long days, and the indignities of waiting around to hear candidates deliver the same speech again and again with slight variation. I could find out what a Hawkeye is. I could describe my room in the Kirkwood Hotel, a desolate and dilapidated exercise in deco that feels like an Edward Hopper painting brought to life. Last night, brown water came out of the taps, and there’s a one-eyed ogre of a maintenance man who stalks the corridor. But my acute colleague Walter Shapiro is already providing this sort of color in this week’s “Diary.” For me to do more of the same seems repetitive and self-indulgent.

So no column today. Sorry.