Kevin Drum and Jonathan Bernstein say essentially the same thing regarding the press deciding not to cover Ron Paul’s campaign, which I’d sum up as: It’s obvious Paul has no chance of being the next President, so the press is right to not cover his campaign.
But granting that Ron Paul can’t win, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be covered. Candidates who — like Paul — might plausibly bring issues in the race that would otherwise be ignored, or force their opponents (a few of whom might well become President) to make arguments they wouldn’t otherwise, can have an important impact even if they can’t win. If the media was covering Ron Paul as eagerly as they cover Michele Bachmann, that could force other candidates — including “real” candidates like Romney — to more explicitly discuss when they would and wouldn’t consider the US going to war to be justified. That’s useful information for the public to know — and it’s not a question we can rely on mainstream journalists to persistently badger Romney with.
Or maybe that wouldn’t happen, and no matter how much public noise Paul makes, Romney would dodge the issue. We really can’t know for sure. But voters should get a chance to find out, rather than the media deciding that it’s not worth the bother.
The press’ role should be to communicate the election contest that’s going on right now — not to gatekeeper the news according to the election contest they believe will happen in the future.
Obviously, it’s necessary for the press to make some gatekeeping decisions; giving equal coverage to everyone who can get their name on a ballot, even if they’re polling at .00001% and have only raised a hundred bucks they got from their mom, would turn press coverage into an incomprehensible mishmash of hundreds of candidates.
But we should see gatekeeping is a necessary evil, which journalists should try to minimize. Above all, journalists should be striving — not for canniness, which is unfortunately the thing most campaign journalists seem to value most — but for modesty. That means that journalists shouldn’t decide things for voters; journalists should not be saying “I’m so canny and smart that I know this candidate can’t win, so why bother reporting on the campaign?”
As much as practically possible, journalists should provide their audience with the full story, and leave it to the voters to decide who is and isn’t a viable candidate.
I don’t know exactly what the threshold of newsworthiness should be. But Paul came within inches of winning an event that the mainstream media considers significant. He’s polling in third in New Hampshire (4% above media darling Michelle Bachmann). Any reasonable threshold based, not on canniness, but on giving readers and viewers what they need to decide, would say that Ron Paul’s campaign is newsworthy.
(None of this is to deny that I think Ron Paul has substantively awful views on many issues.)