Why You Hate Congress, But Like Your Own Member of Congress




Mark Brown


Polls consistently show that most Americans dislike Congress, but they think their own Member of Congress is doing a good job. How do we account for this disparity? Surely the primary reason is the power of incumbency, and the many advantages it gives sitting Members in elevating their profiles around their districts.

But there are other reasons as well. One of them is that most Members of Congress receive very little independent, hard news coverage in their home-town media. Here in South Florida, it’s difficult for me to find out how our area Congressmen are voting, or to get a detailed explanation of where they stand on the issues, just by reading the local newspapers or watching television. There is not a lot of news coverage to begin with, and the few stories we do get tend to focus more on politics than policy. It’s little wonder that people have a higher opinion of their own Representatives than Congress in general when they don’t really know that much about them.

Press coverage of Congress wasn’t always this soft. In the 1970’s, I was a reporter for the Griffin-Larrabee News Bureau in Washington, D.C. We provided Washington coverage for 26 small and mid-size newspapers across the country. We carved out a niche by reporting primarily on regional issues and events which were not being covered by the mainstream national media.

In particular, we covered the Members of Congress who represented our newspapers’ circulation areas. We diligently reported on how they voted, their reactions to the major issues of the day, and the various bills and projects they were working on. They weren’t always the sexiest stories, but they filled an important news gap and gave people a lot more information about their Member of Congress than they receive today.

All of the major newspapers had Washington bureaus at that time. Many smaller newspapers used shared services such as Griffin-Larrabee, States News Service or the Capitol Hill News Service, which Ralph Nader launched in 1973 to provide low-cost Washington coverage for newspapers which could not afford to have their own bureau.

In New Jersey, for example, the Atlantic City Press, Asbury Park Press, Camden Courier-Post, Hudson Dispatch, Trentonian and Trenton Times all had a Washington correspondent of their own or used a shared bureau. The Bergen Record had two full-time reporters and the Newark Star-Ledger had two reporters and a photographer in Washington. The Associated Press had a full-time New Jersey reporter and even one of the television stations in Philadelphia had a New Jersey correspondent. Between us, we covered the New Jersey congressional delegation like a blanket, reporting on virtually everything they did, said or voted on.

Today, most of these news bureaus are gone. The Bergen Record is the only newspaper in New Jersey still listed in the Congressional Directory as having a full-time correspondent accredited to the congressional press gallery. Of the 26 newspapers which Griffin-Larrabee used to serve, the Portland (ME) Press-Herald is the only one still listed as having a Washington correspondent.

The decline in regional Washington coverage can be attributed to a lot of factors, including consolidation in the news industry and competition from cable television and the internet. These are reasons but they are not good excuses. Instead of rising to the challenge of competition, the newspaper industry copped out by cutting costs. First to go were the Washington bureaus. The press used to do a good job of covering Congress and helping voters make informed choices. Now it seems that the less people know about their Member of Congress, the more they like them.


(Mark Brown is a town commissioner in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. He was a Washington correspondent for a chain of newspapers before working 26 years in Congress. Here is his bio. )



7 Responses to “Why You Hate Congress, But Like Your Own Member of Congress”

  1. Ha Ha Ha says:

    The problem is not that the information is unavailable. The Internet has brought the entire history of every politician to anyone who cares to read about it. The problem is that civics education has been largely sacrificed so that students can instead be subjected to endless rounds of standardized testing. With civics education rendered slim to non-existent, few people know – and even fewer people care – about their civic responsibilities. Thus we have an epidemic of low-information voters at the very same time that voter information has never been so widely and so readily available.

  2. Andrew Markoff says:

    Yes, it is a new phenomenon, I believe, that we have so much access to so much information, and yet we also see apathy and a preponderance of low information citizens who are exceedingly disinterested in our political system and in voting. My representative is Frederica Wilson, and I think that I’ve seen a newsletter from her about once per year.

  3. Chaz Stevens, Genius says:

    And coupled with this … is the absolute loathing the main stream media has for the blogging world.

    Sure they visit our sites, and sure they steal our work, and sure they don’t give us credit…

    But hey…

    Five years ago, folks were talking about “hyper local reporting” … a merging of the MSM with individuals such as myself.

    Don’t see that ever happening.

  4. Real Deal says:

    Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a representative in South Florida for six terms. That’s 12 years. We all know she serving as DEC chair and is often a guest on national TV shows.

    What if any accomplishments can she point to of any lasting significance in her district after serving for 12 years? I can’t think of any.

    Didn’t that used to be the standard by which we re-elected somebody?

  5. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    Look, I don’t want to be called racist or anti-Emmigrant or anti-Feminist, but let’s face it, until the 1960s politics and government was 100% White, Male, usually Christian and all English-speaking and mostly native born. Today America (and Europe, and Australia, and New Zealand and Canada) ‘s politics involves not only “general issues” but specific issues, civil rights for Blacks, Gays and Lesbians, Chinese-Americans, Native American Indians, Hispanics, and, of course, women. I remember the old Gannett Bureau in Washington, D.C. that sent news to the old Plainfield Courier-News that I read until maybe 1965. Except for news about school de-segregation, it was all male-oriented news except when Republican Congresswoman Florence Dwyer from Westfield/Plainfield did something, and usually not a “feminist issue”. Certainly Gay, Lesbians, Jews,too actually, Blacks, Hispanics and their issues where not covered. Look when I went to school, a public school I am talking about, we were encouraged to read not only the Plainfield Courier-News in the afternoon but a New York City morning newspaper and a local weekly if you lived outside the Plainfield City limits in, say North Plainfield which had its own local weekly. Today the kids don’t read books or write, but use computers and books and newsprint is unknown to them. The lack of reporters in Washington,D.C. is in PRINT MEDIA, THERE ARE MORE REPORTERS NOW THAN EVER IN DC IF YOU INCLUDE WEB CORRESPONDENTS AND BLOGGERS. Look we have THREE NEWS CHANNELS that NEVER EXISTED in the “good old days”!!!! The White, middle aged Christian male running around for a newspaper owned by a local wealthy family with conservative beliefs is gone. I regret it, but its not my fault THE NIXON, REAGAN, and two BUSH ADMINISTRATIONS let the BORDER GO TO HELL because Eepublican Farmers wanted cheap Mexican labor!!!! I mean blaming CLINTON and now OBAMA for the 12 million illegal immigrants is unfair because it was REPUBLICAN WHITE MALE CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES who did NOTHING ABOUT THE BORDER, so White Christian Conservative Male dominated America wasn’t killed by left wing radicals but by the cheapness of the Country Club set to pay decent wages to American workers. So stop complaining about the results of your OWN POLICIES!

  6. Lamberti is a Criminal says:

    Frederica Wilson….now there is a gem of a intelligent politician. Ha Ha Ha. What hat is she wearing today?

  7. Andrew Markoff says:

    It occurred to me like, in the middle of the night that I had posted that Frederica is my congresswoman. Well, she used to be, but the lines were re-drawn making Debbie my congresswoman. And I agree with comment 4 by “Real Deal.” Debbie put out an awful lot of campaign materials for this last election, including door hangers and yard signs and mailings even though she has no genuine competition- but surely a lot of money to spend. Otherwise, however, I don’t hear about any accomplishments for her constituents and her offices are absolutely NOTORIOUS for arrogant, uncaring and entirely uninterested staff.