Usually when I’m in the car for more than twenty minutes at a time, I listen to music or a podcast. But yesterday, on the way down to Ann Arbor from Saginaw, I drove in silence. I wanted to think. This would be my first time covering a major political rally of national significance. How was I going to do it? What questions was I interested in having answered? What ideas and premises would I hold in my head while at work?
I try to think about these things before any big assignment. But the stakes felt higher this time. One reason is that I’ve seen so much political coverage on Instagram over the past few months that the risk of redundancy or inadvertent plagiarism seems severe. The more pressing reason, though, is that in times as bitter and cynical as these, the need for covering politics responsibly seems especially great.
It’s hard enough even without the deliberate stoking of rage. Politics, insofar as they arise out of our hard-wired tribalism and a competition over clout and resources, strike me as both unavoidable and fundamentally insincere. As Orwell put it in “Politics and the English Language”: “All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”
If that’s our starting point, then what does it even mean to report on politics “responsibly” or “objectively?” To always strike hard and fast at whatever truth and reality lies beneath the politics? To highlight the messiness and schizophrenia of the political process itself? To take the word of specific individuals and parties and interests at face value, amplify them, and then get out of the way? To do this equally often for all sides? To do this more often for some sides?
I don’t have answers to these questions. But after yesterday, I can say that one way or another, “getting out of the way” doesn’t seem possible at all. As I was being herded by staffers from one pre-designated press zone to another and jostling with other photographers for a clear shot, I felt like I was very deliberately trying to get in the way—trying to insert myself, my camera, and my mind into the communicative, interpretive process. To what end, I don’t yet know.
Ann Arbor, MI