Tuned In

The Morning After: Jon Stewart Sticks Up for Invisible Man Ron Paul

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In a way, criticizing the political media for imbalanced coverage of the Iowa Straw Poll is like criticizing the sports media for imbalanced coverage of the Lingerie Bowl. It’s a nonbinding, festival-like event in which candidates essentially buy votes (or at least buy entrance, food and entertainment for their voters), so arguably the most misleading thing the media does in covering it is, well, covering it at all. Still, if one is going to pay rapt attention to an unpredictive electoral stunt, shouldn’t you at least pay attention to the leading candidates whose success the stunt unpredicts?

That didn’t happen for Ron Paul, who came within a percentage point of beating Michele Bachmann in Iowa, and yet, as this Daily Show segment lays out, was ignored even after the fact in listings of “top-tier candidates,” being put behind peers who he beat or who didn’t compete.

The sheer, smug dismissiveness with which the political press treat the libertarian Congressman in these clips is really something. And it’s yet another example of political media winnowing the pack in advance by deciding who is a “serious” candidate and who isn’t—in this case, seemingly, by deciding that Paul’s beliefs are too far out there or, maybe more likely, simply don’t easily fit the left-right narrative.

Now, there is at least some justification for this in the very early months of a campaign, before any voting takes place; editors and producers have to divvy up attention somehow. But at some point those gut calls have to defer to, you know, actual voting. (Even in a glorified beauty contest, considering that it’s a beauty contest the press have elected to give saturation coverage.) Yet even after Paul’s near-win, pundits were more likely to argue that we not forget Jon Huntsman, even though, as I’ve written before, the press’ enthusiasm for him far outstrips any evidence that many people want him to be the President.

One factor that Jon Stewart leaves out here is that the media has room for only so many narratives. Over last weekend, it had two: Bachmann winning the straw poll, and Rick Perry entering the race. (Three, if you count Sarah Palin driving her bus to Iowa and Kanye-ing the Republican field.) If there had been a one-percent swing in the vote and Paul had defeated Bachmann, maybe he would he would have been the narrative. Though the more I look at the reporting, the more I doubt it. (Just as likely the story would have been Bachmann’s “weakness” in losing to him.)

I’m not, by the way, making the argument that Paul would have a serious shot at the GOP nomination in any case. That hardly matters, though; a candidate with obvious significant support can still have a serious effect on the race, and its ideas, and that’s news. Or it should be, if the horserace handicappers didn’t insist on deciding their news angles in advance.