The Mirror

NYT’s Jonathan Weisman Wonders Why He’s Even Still Covering Congress

NYT congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman recently made a bold admission on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with host Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who was on vacation. He’s so dejected and disheartened by Congress’ lack of action that he said it leaves him feeling like, “What am I doing here?”

He spoke of how “demoralizing” his job is at times.

Weisman said, “Well, most traditionally you would measure congressional productivity by the number of laws actually approved by the House and the Senate and signed by the president of the United States. And in this measurement, we are right now just a little bit less productive than the last Congress and the last Congress was the least productive in history. …Even in days in session, this Congress looks to be the least productive in history. This is a Congress that really is doing nothing.”

Even the host had to acknowledge the reporter’s negativity.

“OK. Well, that’s inspiring way to get us started,” joked Davies.

Weisman is especially incensed at the Senate, offering a lengthy explanation of how Senate Maj. Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) exercised the nuclear option on President Obama’s judgeship nominees and Republicans got pissed off and stopped cooperating with anything.

“So if you turn on C-SPAN now in the United States Senate, you’re more likely going to see nothing,” he said. “Nothing is happening. They’re just running out the clock on the latest judge to be confirmed. And it’s completely turned the Senate into a joke. It’s a silent chamber.”

Nearing the end of the interview, Weisman explained why his job is so “demoralizing” and recalled the good old days of covering Capitol Hill.

“I must say, my job can be demoralizing at times,” he said. “I mean, I can remember a time when covering Congress was a very edifying experience. You were on the front lines. You were covering the really big issues of the day – you know? – immigration reform. And I’m not talking about the political fights of today but, like, the big fights in 2006 and 2007, the fights over, you know, the tobacco settlement or the Iraq war. There were really powerful political and policy fights that really reverberated. And that – things would actually happen. There were laws that were passed that changed this country.

“I remember having a discussion with colleagues during the fiscal cliff fight or the government shutdown fight and saying, wow, we used to cover really big policy issues. And now we’re just trying to make the government function. And that felt desultory, but now when you look back, you think, well, at least they did do something. They did stop all of the Bush tax cuts from expiring on mass and possibly sending us back to recession. But now I look – not even that’s happening. I mean, and really, nothing is happening. If you turn on – if you go into the Senate chamber and see nobody on the floor, you really feel like, what am I doing here?”

Journalists are a naturally pessimistic, cynical lot. No doubt his editor was thrilled.

Read or listen to the entirety of Weisman’s interview here