Why Is The Media Covering The Election As If Romney’s Winning? He’s Not.
John Cook had a prescient take on the media’s* coverage of Romney a few weeks ago: namely, that they were covering him as if he were a loser. It’s doubly prescient now that the press is doing the same for Obama.
A trio of articles from The New Republic, The Daily Beast, and New York Magazine all ask the same question: why is everybody writing about this race as if Romney’s winning? Via Jon Chait:
This is a bluff. Romney is carefully attempting to project an atmosphere of momentum, in the hopes of winning positive media coverage and, thus, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Over the last week, Romney’s campaign has orchestrated a series of high-profile gambits in order to feed its momentum narrative. Last week, for instance, Romney’s campaign blared out the news that it was pulling resources out of North Carolina. The battleground was shifting! Romney on the offensive! On closer inspection, it turned out that Romney was shifting exactly one staffer. It is true that Romney leads in North Carolina, and it is probably his most favorable battleground state. But the decision to have a staffer move out of state, with a marching band and sound trucks in tow to spread the news far and wide, signals a deliberate strategy to create a narrative.
Chait’s right. For all the bluster, Romney still trails in almost all important metrics. Romney significantly narrowed the gap between himself and Obama following the first debate, and the race nationally is tied. But if the election were held today, Obama would win handily, taking every swing state but North Carolina and Florida. If “momentum” or “trajectory” are what matters—a take Alec MacGillis defenestrates—even that doesn’t get you anywhere: far from Romney surging, the race has actually stabilized in the past ten days, with Obama maintaining a small but demonstrable lead in most swing states, more than enough to get to 270. Hell, there are even signs via early voting that North Carolina isn’t as in the bag as Romney’s camp wants us to think.
But Chait’s also right that a media narrative that Romney’s winning could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Michael Tomasky points to Politico credulously reporting that Romney could take New Hampshire merely because a Romney aide said he might—despite the fact that Romney’s never led there, and a poll yesterday had Obama up by nine in the state. Enough articles like that and Democratic voters could become discouraged, thus creating a reality that follows Politico‘s reporting of it.
As a friend of mine put it last night, the media* was all too happy for a Romney comeback, as it looked like he was going to sleep through the election and take everybody’s ratings with him. But we might want to be careful how much we participate in such a comeback: if Romney does win, and it turns out that his campaign was a bait and switch in which Romney costumed himself as a moderate to win centrist votes only to implement a far more extremist budget that savages popular programs to pay for tax cuts for the rich, then people will begin asking why this wasn’t unmasked more in the general election. And the media* will have to answer why it let Romney’s continual claim to create 12 million jobs—to pick just one of many examples—go without comment. As MacGillis puts it:
It doesn’t matter if we have failed in achieving many of the basics of campaign coverage, like getting a candidate to cough up a critical mass of tax returns, release his bundler list, and account for his proposals and position shifts with a minimum of detail and coherence. No, we have our trajectory. And dammit, we’re sticking to it.
* There is, of course, no such thing as “the media.” Except, of course, when there is.