Even in the world of political journalism, there is such a thing as balance. Right now, it looks like it might be spreading to CNN.
The news that Chris Cillizza from The Washington Post is moving on to CNN might be a little surprising to some people. Even though I’ve been guilty of not keeping up with his work lately, when the headline showed up on my browser, I wasn’t surprised. Maybe just a little curious, but not overly so. Cillizza and “The Fix” have been relative mainstays, if often in the background noise for me over several years now. When I was more active on Twitter, it would be amusing to watch the exchanges between the pundit, and Jay Rosen, the journalism professor from NYU.
Love or hate Cillizza, the bottom line has remained the same for him over the years – he is an equal opportunist, and doesn’t pull punches because of niggling details like party affiliation. CNN is getting into the practice of gathering voices like that, or at the very least, voices like Jake Tapper, who has generally built a reputation for not wearing his personal political views on his sleeve. To me, Cillizza and Tapper are both kindred spirits of a sort, at least from the perspective that no matter how much they may embrace the “new media,” their underlying journalistic philosophies are decidedly old school.
When people choose to write about politics as a vocation, one important decision has to be made from the start of their careers, or at least at the beginning of a new job. “Do I write what I believe, or do I keep myself on the side of the road so I can watch what I observe?” In this analogy, taking the middle of the road like Cillizza or just observing like Tapper are both “side of the road” positions. The obvious danger of picking sides is that means one has to step out in the traffic, which means there’s always the potential of becoming roadkill. Cillizza certainly has his fair share of detractors, just like anyone else who puts words on politics out there for all the world to see. It’s the way the game works.
However, it’s fair to guess that even those who despise him are not nearly as rabid as the ones who attack pundits who choose one side of the road over the other. That equal opportunity attitude theoretically can cause attacks from all sides, but since there’s balance in the work, there’s balance in the responses from the detractors. Even though people may not realize it consciously, it’s safe to think that they instinctively or subconsciously recognize that Cillizza isn’t attacking based on bias per se. Everyone is under his scrutiny from the side of the road, so people might recognize that he’s just focusing on a couple items flying in each direction at a time. He’s generally not jumping out in front them, or trying to keep up.
Yes, I am speaking in generalities, because just about every political writer who is trying to just observe occasionally gets distracted by a shiny object in the road. We’re human. But, ones like Cillizza – and hopefully myself – tend to get themselves back out of the fray once they realize they’ve gotten pulled into the mix. Yes, it will be interesting to see what happens for him at CNN, and how he will fit into their mix. We’re told that “The Fix” will go on without him, and rightfully so. Personally, I’m hoping that this just means more political analysis from the sides of the road, at least attempting to keep both sides a little honest. Balance. Real balance, and not just a tag-line for a media network or newspaper.