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Weekend Reading: Rick Perlstein: Press Coverage and the Republican Primaries

Rick Perlstein: The New Holy Grail of Republican Primaries: "The penumbras and emanations of Citizens United are changing the Republican campaign game...

...Never have so many done so much to reveal so little than in the collected journalism about presidential nomination contests. The personality-driven trivia. The hokey generalizations. The bogs of conventional wisdom. The day-by-day scorekeeping that ends up worse than uninformative; it is anti-informative. (Just ask Presidents George Romney, Edmund Muskie, Scoop Jackson, John Connally, Richard Gephardt, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.)

The utter failure to inform the public of the actual, on-the-ground dynamics of the nuts-and-bolts process by which the parties chose their standard-bearers, and the larger dynamics that drive party trends from decade to decade. And, last but not least, the shameful lack of any useful contribution to a richer public understanding of what any of this means for the future of the republic at large. Consider, to take an example close to hand, the saga of the $80,000 boat.

On June 9, The New York Times ran a useful, detailed consideration of... Marco Rubio['s]... everyman’s struggle to ‘finally pay off his law school loans’... [while] he spent ‘$80,000 for a luxury speedboat.’... Rubio has been financially in the hole for nearly his entire adult life... "unusually reliant on a campaign donor, Norman Braman, a billionaire who has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s job as a college instructor, hired him as a lawyer, and continues to employ his wife." Then came Politico’s bubble-headed media reporter Dylan Byers with a scoop: Rubio’s ‘luxury speedboat’ was ‘in fact, an offshore fishing boat.’ Speedboats, you see, are for rich swells; fishing boats, even ones costing almost $100,000, are for jes’ folks.... Politico covered Boatgate eight times over the next two weeks.... They didn’t mention Braman once.... The Washington Post also featured little but nautically-inclined reporting on Rubio in that same period... headlined ‘Mr. Rubio, Like a Lot of Americans, Is Terrible With Money.’ (Not, say, ‘Mr. Rubio, Like a Lot of Americans, Has a Surrogate Father Who Loans Him Rides on His Private Jet.’)....

What indicators should a well-informed citizen be following?... The name of today’s game is TV commercials, not endorsements, door-knocking armies, and ‘walking around money.’ TV is costly and it takes don’t-call-me-fat-cats like Norman Braman, Sheldon Adelson, and the Brothers Koch.... The penumbras and emanations of Citizens United are changing the campaign game in ways that throw all previous understandings of how Republicans nominate presidents into a cocked hat....

We get the same old hackneyed horse race—like, did you know that Rick Santorum is in trouble? Only one voter showed up at his June 8 event in Hamlin, Iowa. The Des Moines Register reported that. Politico made sure that tout Washington knew it. Though neither mentioned that Santorum is still doing just fine with the one voter the matters: Foster Friess, the Wyoming financier who gave his super-PAC $6.7 million in 2012, and promises something similar this year...

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