by Brendan Monaghan
As the summer prior to the summer before the presidential elections draws to a close, one of the biggest stories currently being reported in the media is how outgoing Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is not being reported in the media. Ironically, Paul himself went on Fox News Sunday this past week to discuss this very issue. Driving this story- aside from his small yet devoted and vocal base on the internet- was none other than Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Host Jon Stewart is a comedian but sees himself as a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, driving the public debate and boldly speaking truth to power, uncovering the misdeeds of our nation’s leaders. That is, until he’s asked a tough question- then he’s just another comedian.
To step back, Paul’s supporters have been adamant that he is not receiving the (favorable) media coverage they believe he deserves. That, somehow, getting more exposure on cable news will propel him to the front of the Republican field- notwithstanding the overwhelming majority of actual Republicans who continue to oppose the legalization of heroin. The argument goes that the current frontrunners- Governors Rick Perry and Mitt Romney- are receiving far more coverage than anyone else, and thus, enjoy higher support at the polls (not the other way around).
This assertion received some merit after Paul finished second in an overrated exercise in electoral bribery with a slightly better track record of indicating the Republican nominee than throwing darts at a board- and was promptly ignored. To the extent that the media should have covered the Ames Straw Poll at all, favored Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was rightfully trumpeted as the winner. However, candidates who fared worse- in some cases, much worse- than Paul received more mentions on cable news, talk radio, and other outlets. How can this be, and why?
Consider the way in which Major League Baseball games are televised nationally. On a given Saturday or Sunday (the national showcase days each week), teams you’re likely to see on a regular basis are:
1. Major-market teams guaranteed to draw ratings, no matter how they perform
2. Teams with a realistic chance of winning the World Series, or at least contending for the playoffs
In other words, ESPN and Fox want games that people are likely to watch, thus why we’re served up steady helpings of the Yankees, Cubs, Giants and Red Sox. It’s also a good reason why the Royals haven’t been on national television since around 1987. The floundering candidates are ratings magnets: viewers enjoy the latest disaster to hit Newt Gingrich’s campaign train wreck, Rick Santorum’s apparent confusion between recreational drugs, and Bachmann’s gaffe-a-minute impersonation of the Vice President. For that matter, they also are captivated by the soap opera of “Will She? Won’t She?” speculation surrounding a certain gubernatorial dropout.
The lion’s share of campaign coverage, however, should focus on the Republicans’ two clear frontrunners, and probably will. Barring a monumental Giuliani of a choke along the way, the nominee will either be Perry or Romney. This is similar to the situation on the Democratic side three years ago, when the media focused on another two-person race and steadfastly ignored the campaign of Mike Gravel. To be sure, Ron Paul is a serious candidate, fighting it out with Bachmann for third place, but stands no realistic hope of becoming the Republican nominee. The polls are indicative of both. Rather than expecting a level of media coverage vastly greater than his level of support in the polls, Ron Paul’s supporters should harness this perceived blackout of his campaign and add it to their “us against the world” campaign narrative.
Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State University, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program, and a regular contributor at Oregon Catalyst. Brendan is studying political science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.