Back when I was in my 20s, a friend of mine told me he had considered, as a birthday present to me, placing my name on the ballot for the presidential primary in New Hampshire. When he found out that the filing fee was $1,000, he thought better of it. I mention this as a reminder that there are a lot more people that run for president than those who actually get discussed by the media. For instance, in 2008, there were 19 Democrats and 21 Republicans on the ballot in New Hampshire. You never heard of most of them, because the news media didn't pay any attention to them. Which in many cases was probably perfectly appropriate.
There are some candidates who are obviously worthy of that attention -- governors, senators, and so on -- and some who are obviously cranks, the Charles Dotys of the world (see video below to learn about the immortal Doty). So where does Herman Cain fall?
In case you weren't aware, Cain, unlike your Romneys and your Gingriches, has a real live exploratory committee for his 2012 GOP presidential candidacy. Although he has never held public office, Cain was the CEO of Godfather's Pizza, a job that presumably requires some level of intelligence and skill, at least when it comes to the production and marketing of pizzas. Not that being a CEO is preparation for being a politician (something I have to keep pointing out), but having held a prominent position in the business world means that Cain can make a reasonable claim to being a serious person.
That is, were it not for the fact that Cain's actual beliefs are a not-too-charming combination of crazy radicalism and outright bigotry (asked whether he would appoint any Muslims to his administration, he said "No I would not," something he is now attempting to walk back). But the relative saneness of your ideas has virtually nothing to do with whether the press decides you're a "serious" enough candidate to cover.
Cain isn't just a Doty, though. He'll get on the stage at Republican debates, whereas candidates 10 through 20 on the ballot won't. So how should reporters judge whether he's a serious candidate? The fact is, for non-politicians, there are only two measures they use: celebrity and money. If well-known Republican Tom Selleck decided to run for the nomination, he'd be covered like a serious candidate. Likewise, anyone with a billion dollars could get themselves on the front page of The New York Times with an announcement speech. But Cain doesn't quite make it on either measure. So unless he can keep saying crazy things, he'll be mostly ignored. As he probably should be.
And yes, as regards the headline, both Pat Paulsen and Doty are dead. But why should that stop them?