Several bloggers have rediscovered this article from 1996 by Atlantic Monthly's journalist and now-blogger James Fallows. In it Fallows writes about a Beltway media that had come to regard politics as a game, and were quick to cover matters of style over substance, leading to a profound disconnect between what they thought was newsworthy and what the public thought was newsworthy. Of course, that hasn't changed since 1996 except in the sense that it's only gotten worse, and easy war has been one of the consequences (among others.) I'm reading it now, and am struck by how much of what Fallows writes could so easily apply to these journalists and pundits today. Today we have a robust and well-informed blogosphere to counteract the inane coverage of these Beltway journalists, and bloggers successfully put pressure on these journalists/pundits to be more accountable for their opinions. But to think that these journalists and pundits don't still exercise undue influence on millions of Americans through their columns and talk shows would just be foolish.
As an aside, it's important to note that this is not a left/right issue. While "serious" Beltway journalists have been all too eager to adopt Republican talking points, that has less to do with their political inclination (although some may as well be Republican operatives) and more to do with the success of the right-wing propaganda machine in influencing public opinion through attacks on the "MSM." There is pushback now from the left, but we should never hope that there comes a day when "serious" Beltway journalists repeat Democratic administration claims without hesitation or attribution and conservative critics are derided as "unserious" (except of course, when they are.)