Why the Media Is Ignoring Ron Paul

It's been clear for some time now that the media is ignoring Ron Paul. Now it's a mathematical fact. Pew Research has crunched the numbers, and it turns out the media's giving less love to Ron Paul than to fellow presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

Not to slam Hunstman, but the dude's a bottom feeder in every poll. Ron Paul's reliably near the top. And yet...

...a PEJ analysis of campaign coverage this year indicates he is the 10th leading election newsmaker- trailing far behind non-candidates Donald Trump and Sarah Palin and as well as floundering Republican hopeful Newt Gingrich.

Obviously, the media's Paul blackout is a sign of the ill health of American politics. It suggests the media can spontaneously wish away a candidate. In a sane universe, the enthusiasms of young activists, caucusites and straw-pollers ought to result in a gradual building of excitement in the more politically inert electorate. It's not happening with Paul, and it won't, unless circumstances get very weird, very fast.

Pundits have offered various explanations for the blackout. Natch, most of those pundits are Ron Paul supporters, so they write things like:

The TV talking heads are not prejudiced against Paul. They are not-so-bright people marketing their shows to even stupider people. Thus they look for topics and people easily understood. Attractive but empty-headed types such as Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are a TV news producer's dream. Someone who is not eye candy and whose views would require reflection is not what they're looking for. Paul's views require reflection. So no coverage.

As for the print reporters, they are pack animals, as are their editors. They follow the TV reporters.

That was Paul Mulshine, at NJ.com. At the Chicago Tribune, John Kass rolls out a theory in which:

...the media is merely trying to provide us with loving protection from Paul and those challenging libertarian ideals:

Such as the view we shouldn't be eager to be groped in airports or to fund another war in the Middle East, or that we should legalize drugs rather than fight the drug wars, or the wild idea that a coffee shop waitress should not be expected to pay taxes on her tips.

These are extreme notions, though the principles behind them were once held dear by a few old guys in powdered wigs who founded this country.

The TV people are happy to do the work for you, and tell you what notions are fit for public debate. Thinking for yourself is really, really hard, and it's just easier to watch TV and listen to discussions about Bachmann's hair.

And so on. Across the blogosphere, Paul's media snubbing is ascribed to reportorial laziness and a fierce love of the status quo. There's certainly some truth in that. But it'd be a helluvalot truer without the Pauline spin.

Ron Paul, like the other Republican front-runners, has deeply held convictions that most would consider extreme. (The probable exception is Mitt Romney, whose deeply-held convictions, if he's got any, are unknowable.) Difference is, the extreme convictions of the other candidates are easy to talk about. Everybody's got an opinion on Young Earth creationism, 'cuz it's occurred to everybody over the age of four that there's an Earth and it must have come from somewhere. A reporter can file a story from that particular front in the culture war and not have to expend thousands of words on dense exposition.

Ron Paul might be a Young Earth creationist, but it's not part of his platform, and he doesn't want to discuss it. (In Pauline America, the government oughtn't concern itself with how and why the Earth got here.) Except on the issue of gay marriage, Paul stays out of the culture wars whenever possible. His own publicly espoused extreme convictions are of a different order. He wants the U.S. out of the United Nations, wants to deregulate private schools, wants to kill the Fed, etc.

And here's the problem: Ron Paul's got reasons for desiring these things. He's not some incurious yahoo. He may be wrong about everything, but his arguments are sufficiently well-reasoned to deserve a good, vigorous public discussion. And if he's a serious presidential contender, such discussion isn't just right. It's necessary.

But that discussion cannot be had. Even most politically aware citizens are ignorant of the issues at hand, and mass media has no mechanism for informing us. How could any popular journalist tackle a question like the usefulness of the U.N.? An attempt to do so in a 10-minute Maddow segment, or even in a 5,000-word Times feature, would make a mockery of the subject. You're talking about a body that employs tens of thousands, that has engaged the world in a million ways, both overt and subtle, with results both brilliant and disastrous. Maddow might as well debate the accuracy of string theory.

Journalists know they can't make Paul's pet causes intelligible; that the most they can do is portray Ron Paul as an extremely popular person with a few weird ideas. And I suspect they also know that it would be extremely irresponsible to help America to elect Ron Paul without first wrestling with those ideas. Which is true. So they ignore him, or dismiss him as a fringe candidate. Which he might be, even if most of us don't know enough about diplomacy, monetary policy, or the vagaries of the education system to tell.