Maybe this is a bit too soon, but we might as well get used to it. The relationship between the list of prospective candidates for president and the media covering them is a constant dance and spectacle. I leave it to the world of journalism to cover them and report to us what they see, hear, and also dig up. Of all the news stories read in the past few days, this is the one that is the least upsetting, but still close to being interesting: This is from Frank Bruni of the NY Times:
Scott Walker, the Media and the 2016 Presidential Campaign
MAYBE those of us who write about politics and campaigns should adopt a bristly uniform of hair shirts, so that we're constantly atoning for our sins.
Maybe we should wear targets, the better for our critics to take aim at us.
Oh, how we're hated. And as another presidential race takes shape, that hatred gathers force. Hillary Clinton's protectors cast us as bloodthirsty raptors intent on finding flaw where none exists. Chris Christie was asked what he'd given up for Lent and said that it would have been The New York Times, but then his priest told him he had to forswear something he'd truly miss.
Scott Walker thinks we're laying an elaborate trap for him, and after The Washington Post inquired if he regarded President Obama as Christian, he not only punted but also bellowed about "gotcha" questions, griping: "This is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press."
And if we're honest, we've brought much of it on ourselves. We play petty games and barrel down pointless roads.Dislike? Increasingly? Either he was being charitable or he hasn't read the polling. The public's esteem for us has been abysmal for a good long while.
There are bad habits we should surrender not merely for Lent but forever, and there are tweaks we'd be wise to implement as we move forward with the 2016 election.
Here's a wish list of such amendments, followed by a look at what we do right, because there's plenty of that as well. I hasten to add that I have been guilty of all the high crimes and misdemeanors I describe.
Stop hyping Iowa and New Hampshire. You would think, from our rapt (and sometimes rabid) attention to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, that candidates face some sort of mathematical, structural imperative to wow voters there, and that these two states are nonpareil mirrors of the country.
Hardly. The importance of the contests stems chiefly from our coverage of them; the momentum that winners and runners-up carry out of them is as much our decree as it is anything organic.
Iowa is not America, just one rectangular slice of it. It's about twice as rural as the rest of the nation, more religiously conservative and much less Hispanic and black.
In 2012, when Rick Santorum prevailed in the Republican caucuses there, only 121,501 voters participated. That was less than one in five registered Republicans in the state.
Of those 121,501 voters, 57 percent described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, according to the Pew Research Center. That's wholly out of whack with the concentration of such religious conservatives in the party nationally, as a recent column I wrote about new data from the Public Religion Research Institute made clear.
Go easy on the spouses. There's a rickety logic behind our spirited plunge into the psyches, hobbies and wardrobes of candidates' other halves, and there's a sexist, gratuitously invasive edge to it.
Yes, the marriage choice that a person makes is profoundly reflective of his or her character, but it's typically made at a young age. People change, as do marriages.
And the idea that a spouse is a full-fledged, fully involved political partner whose priorities will color a presidential administration is highly questionable, the Clintons excepted. Laura Bush's policy imprint on George fell somewhere between marginal and invisible.
Outside the political arena, the marriage of a person who is up for a big job isn't considered some special window or yardstick. I'm hard pressed to think of business titans and corporate C.E.O.s who are judged by their spouses, and those spouses draw limited scrutiny. Let's take a bit of a cue from that.
Don't buy tickets to circus acts. When someone on the fringes of both the race and serious discourse says something clownish that's a cry to be noticed, ignore it. This means quitting our addiction to Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, no matter how good they are for readership, ratings and belly laughs.
We are too often like the parents who attend only to the screeching 3-year-old, plying him with Gummi bears and Goldfish crackers, which simply reward and ratchet up his screams. Meanwhile the virtuous, unexcitable older sibling is ignored, until she wins the Michigan primary and leaves us no choice but a grudging, belated magazine cover.
Resist declaring emergencies where they don't exist. We may wish certain snags were roadblocks and certain missteps collapses, because we think they should be or they're sexier that way. But we look foolish when we're wrong. After Walker's supposed bungling of the Obama-Christian question, he went up in one national poll.Resist glorifying certain horses for the sake of having a horse race. Some are obviously bound, in the end, for the political glue factory. Remember Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in 2012? Enough said.
Sometimes a dodge is just a dodge and a gaffe not much of a gaffe. The world keeps spinning; the campaign trundles on.
Resist overly tidy diagnoses of the nation's mood. Four people drinking coffee on a street corner of Hardscrabble, Del., or Ordinary, Va., do not constitute a snapshot of the electorate, no matter how fetching their town's name.
We err when we suggest otherwise.
But we have our strengths.
Over the last decade, there's been something of a surge in the truth-squad vetting of the insults that candidates hurl and the claims that they make: on the trail, in debates, at conventions. It's exemplified by such popular, praiseworthy sites and writers as PolitiFact and The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, whose Fact Checker column doles out Pinocchios in accordance with the size of the politician's lie. This is a vital task.
The widely derided "process" stories that we do on the agility or clumsiness with which a candidate's campaign unfurls also matter, as do the introductions we give voters to a candidate's aides. These provide a predictive glimpse of the candidate as chief executive of a sprawling, unpredictable enterprise, which is what the president of the United States is.
A president is also someone whose every word, scripted or spontaneous, is heard loudly and can have great consequence, and so most of our supposed "gotcha" questions are anything but. They're part of a rolling, roiling back-and-forth that tells voters essential truths about a politician's capabilities under a constant spotlight like the presidency's.
Keep that in mind when candidates bemoan and disparage the media's omnipresence and hypervigilance, and remember this, too: When they're harping about our shortcomings, they're first and foremost trying to cover up their own.