Iowa media corps offers superficial Gingrich coverage


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It's been a rough couple weeks for Republicans.

They were all so excited about Herman Cain. They thought they had a real maverick, and he was finally gaining some steam, butting heads in the polls with the only constant in this caucus season, Mitt Romney.

Alas, sexual-harassment accusations surfacing over the last couple weeks have damaged Cain. Rest assured, though, the mainstream media were standing by to dub a new front-runner: Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The political story line this week has been Gingrich blazing up the ranks of caucus contenders.

Gingrich's campaign is "surging," according to MSNBC. The candidate is "on the rise," CNN says. The Des Moines Register —Iowa's highest-circulation daily newspaper — pronounced loud and clear on its front page Tuesday that Gingrich is "making a comeback." And the top TV station is the Iowa City market called Gingrich the "new front-runner."

That's right — Newt Gingrich is blazing up the polls … straight to fourth place.

A recent Bloomberg News poll shows Gingrich has support from around 17 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers. Cain, Romney, and Ron Paul still lead Gingrich, according to the poll. There's a big drop-off after Gingrich, and the top four are all within the poll's margin of error. So it's fair to say Gingrich has joined the lead pack, but the surging, rising, comebacking language is a bit misleading. And calling him the new frontrunner is outright false.

If you needed more evidence that the political media corps are more concerned with imagining exciting story lines than with reporting anything of substance, there you go.

What's ironic is this is exactly the kind of horse race coverage Gingrich has decried throughout the campaign.

"I think that there's too much attention paid by the press corps about the campaign minutia and not enough paid by the press corps about the basic ideas that distinguish us from Barack Obama,"Gingrich said in September during a debate in Ames. That was shortly after Gingrich lost a handful of campaign staffers and was facing questions about the viability of his candidacy.

What's sad is that by focusing on Gingrich's standing in the polls, reporters miss out on the policy positions of one of very few candidates who has something of substance to say. I agree with very little of what Gingrich believes, but to his credit, he has a greater number of specific policy proposals than perhaps any other candidate, incumbent Democrat Barack Obama included.

The fact of the matter is this: The Republican nominating convention is in nine months. By that time, 68-year-old Gingrich might be dead. Or uninterested in the presidency. Or a Democrat. A lot can — and inevitably will — happen between now and then, so to try to decide today who's going to win the nomination is silly. That's especially true when you consider the same poll that put Gingrich in the lead pack also showed a large majority of caucus-goers either haven't made up their minds or could be persuaded to support another candidate before Jan. 3.

Gingrich is the shoo-in for the nomination this week, just as Cain was two weeks ago, Rick Perry was a month and a half ago, and Michele Bachmann was over the summer. In another two weeks, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum will be up to bat, and a couple weeks after that, they'll fade back into the middle of the pack.

No part of this horse race will stir conversation to solve our country's problems. But it will make for exciting headlines on the front page of the Des Moines Register.

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