Want to know why political journalism is such a mess? A piece of it is that they don't do their homework. (Another piece is that they used to be the intellectuals of the working class; now they are professionals who went to college with the people they cover.) It's gotten to the point that it's news when a political reporter actually reads to the end of reports, as can be seen in this profile of (obsessively) hard-working NYT reporter Sewell Chan:
NYO – Off the Record: “The story I like to tell about Sewell is you hand him the M.T.A. budget, and two days later he’s digging through it and he’s finding B1 story leads on page 250,” Mr. Jamieson said. “I think he’s home in bed reading it. He flips through it and finds things like they’re going to take conductors off train lines this year. It’s just classic good reporting.”
This is unusual? Ouch. No wonder Murray Waas is such a standout.
I think the problem is particularly acute among reporters who cover “politics” which they see as somehow divorced from underlying realities of governing. The reporters with more specialized beats are sometime impressively well informed. Certainly quite a few of the Washington Post and NYT tech journalists I've spoken to had done real homework, as had the main AP guys. But, in my admittedly limited experience, pound for pound the real standouts in terms of preparation are the Wall Street Journal reporters. Either they routinely read in depth or I'm just the last guy they call when no one else is around.