This ground floor competency in a variety of subjects requires no great expertise on the part of the reporter, but insert a handful of graphs with relevant data points and one or two supporting quotes and the work of the “explanatory journalist” is dubbed authoritative.
This is a powerfully successful journalistic model in the evolving media environment. It provides news consumers with exactly what they want – that is, to be blunt, rhetorical ammunition to use when they engage their ideological adversaries (friends, family, and co-workers) at the dinner table or during happy hour. It is a fair critique of conservative media that there is nothing like this on their side, particularly given how easily it can be reproduced.
But it is not a fair critique of conservative media to suggest that they lack “political wonkishness,” as Tyndall put it. Policy mavens like The Washington Examiner’s Byron York, the American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis, CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, R Street Institute’s Reihan Salam, Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, Manhattan Insitute’s Avik Roy and a slew of other conservative thinkers are already prominent fixtures in political media (radio, television, and print). That is to say nothing of the myriad capable conservative columnists and reporters who possess broad expertise on an array of issues.
The perception that conservative media lacks a focus on serious policy issues is widespread. While it is not accurate, it is understandable why some might hold this view. But judging from the phenomenon of modern “explanatory journalism,” it is not because conservative policy wonks talk down to their audience. It is because they do not.