Ron Paul, Press Victim

Should Ron Paul be getting more attention? Roger Simon says yes. Jon Stewart says yes. Kevin Drum says no, as does Steve Kornacki. I'm going to take a slightly different position.

The pro-Paul argument is that if you're going to pay attention to something like the Ames straw poll, then you have to treat the candidates by the same rules. Michele Bachmann won, so she should get attention for that. But Paul came in a close second, so he ought to be getting credit for that too. Yet reporters are not only ignoring him, but when they do talk about him, it's with barely disguised contempt, as you can see in the Daily Show montage.

The counter-argument is, as Kevin puts it, "Paul has a small but fervent fan base that hasn't grown noticeably since he ran and flamed out in 2008, and he has a well-known (but meaningless) ability to fire up this little fan base for assorted minor events like this." This is also true.

Now, reporters will insist that their decisions about whom to cover and whom to ignore are driven by a set of standards that are reasonable and objective, and that go way beyond "I just think that guy's a nut." But the truth is that nearly all of their decisions on how much coverage to give each candidate are infused with subjectivity.

Is Ron Paul a nut? Yeah, he is. But so is Michele Bachmann. Like Paul, she's a member of the House with almost no legislative accomplishments, a fervent but crazed fan base, a surprising ability to raise money, and an extremist ideology. Like Paul, she has virtually no chance of becoming president. But reporters have decided that Paul is not a serious candidate, while Bachmann is. From that assessment flows decisions that then affect how seriously voters take each of them. If they put Ron Paul on the cover of Newsweek, printed profiles of him on the front page of major newspapers, and invited him on Meet the Press, then people would begin to think about him differently. Conversely, if they did none of those things for Michele Bachmann (all of which they have), her support would be no less limited than Paul's. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So is Paul being treated unfairly? Sure. But none of this is fair.