In the latest edition of his “Press Man” column for Commentary, Andrew Ferguson applies Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle — “An observer can change the nature of a thing or event merely through the act of observation” — to political journalists.

A typical journalist, if he’s any good, insists at least theoretically on the iron divide between observer and participant. At its best the press corps sees itself as a squadron of Red Cross workers, wandering among the combatants in a battle zone and ensuring their own safety with a claim of strict neutrality. The Heisenberg Principle of Journalism puts the lie to all that. You see it at work whenever a news anchor announces that “this story just refuses to go away” or a headline writer insists that “questions continue to be raised” about the conduct of one hapless public figure or another.

The story refuses to go away, of course, because the anchor and his colleagues won’t let it; and the questions that continue to be raised are being raised by the headline writer and his editors. Reporters create more news than anybody, just by pretending they’re watching it unfold.

A lovely example from politics is a once meaningless event called the Ames straw poll, held in August every four years amid the rising heat and barnyard perfume of Iowa cow country. The local Republicans originally conceived the straw polls as a fundraising lark. No one had ever claimed the poll could demonstrate the relative popularity of a candidate among Iowa Republicans; that’s what the Iowa caucuses are for. But by 1999 it was no longer a lark.

The Ames straw poll was elevated into a “make-or-break” contest for Republican hopefuls; only those who finished in the top four would be considered serious contenders for the nomination.

Note the passive voice: was elevated… would be considered… Who was doing the elevating? Considered by whom? The political press corps was both elevator and considerer. Its ranks had grown so large and so easily bored that they could no longer wait until the January caucuses for some hot political action. And if they had to go to Iowa in August to find it, they would.

Read on to find Ferguson’s take on the now fashionable use of media fact-checkers, a trend also analyzed in recent weeks by John Hood.