The Greeks started the whole thing by calling sultry summer weather “Dog Days,” blaming it on the brightest star in the sky besides the Sun, Sirius, also known as the Dog Star. But it was the Romans who really took it seriously: They sacrificed brown dogs to appease the rage of Sirius and ameliorate the weather.
Now, could it be that the Dog Days in Washington are a thing of the past?
The weather has been foul enough, but where is the cessation of news? Where are the soft, feature articles masquerading as news that marked the metaphorical Dog Days? Where are the lesser politicians trying to get noticed for bills they have introduced that will died in committee?
It used to be at this time of year, when Congress was preparing for its long summer recess, things just slowed down, practically flat-lined. Washington emptied; the traffic thinned; no reservations were needed in restaurants; and clubs, like the Metropolitan and the Cosmos, opened their doors to non-members.
While there has been some summer flight, the journalistic and political intensity continues apace. Not only is this an election year, but the whole structure of political reporting has been revolutionized.
In a time of journalistic agony in most publications, political reporting is booming, fed by new technologies and cable news. Well, that is on the surface; out of sight, the furnace is fed by money, lobbying money.
If you want Congress to pass legislation favorable to your interests, or not to pass something unfavorable, then you hire a slew of lobbyists. They, in turn, place “advocacy” ads and the political media are off to the races. These ads appear on air, on line, on paper and on our doorsteps. Some media outlets charge hefty subscription fees, like Congressional Quarterly and National Journal, others are given away. But all seek and promise to lift the veil of secrecy in Washington.
The reporters—for Roll Call, The Hill, The Daily Caller, and hundreds of blogs clustered around publications and television channels, mainstream newspapers and wire services–slice, dice, puree, chop, blend, mix, pound, julienne, mince, whip and, sometimes, flavor the news. But mostly they feed the rapacious, 24-hour news cycle by blowing the slightest slip of the tongue, the smallest infraction of decorum, the inadvertent utterance into national events.
The remarkable new entry in the field is Politico, which exploded on the scene with the considerable fortune of Robert Allbritton, chairman and chief executive officer of Allbritton Communications, which owns television stations in Washington and elsewhere. As an example of innovative multi-platform publishing, it is an exemplar.
The impact in the surge in political reporting across the board is questionable: too many peas of news in mattresses of words. There is no time to investigate, and none to ponder. Better to be first and wrong than second and right.
One result of the swelling ranks of political reporter is politicians have clammed up. It is unwise for them to say anything that has not been vetted by their staffs. Hence, their infatuation with social media.
Here in high summer, one realizes that the glorious lazy, hazy Dog Days are a thing of the past; a time to do that interview you had put off, to try to be little more creative with your writing, to talk the bureau chief or editor into an off-beat story. No, instead, hundreds of political reporters are looking for something, anything, to fill today’s void. Was a congressman seen with a pretty woman (Damn, it is his daughter!)? Did a senator misspell something on her Facebook page?
It is this frenzy for faux news that brought us stories like Acorn, Shirley Sherrod, and the endless sightings of President Obama with known socialists? Whew!
Bring back the ancient Dog Days, but spare the brown dogs.