The political press’s “who will crash and burn first” focus is, yes, largely horse race over substance— and not without impact. As The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin recently pointed out, headlines like Zeleny’s have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. Wrote Rubin:

A supporter of another candidate bluntly told me, “The headlines are a killer with donors. It’s an investment. Are you willing to put money in a stock that the buzz is bad on?”

More of that bad buzz, from Bloomberg, July 8: “Failure in Iowa Straw Poll Could Doom Pawlenty’s White House Bid.” (The man who ran Romney’s ’08 Iowa campaign gets to define what “failure in Iowa Straw Poll” means, telling Bloomberg that Pawlenty’s “got to win” next month’s straw poll “or he’s going to be in tough shape.” And that Pawlenty’s “not a very exciting individual.”)

The conventional wisdom on Pawlenty received its “Meet the Press” stamp of approval this past Sunday, when David Gregory quoted from a May LA Times piece that described Pawlenty as “bland” and “soft-spoken,” in order to then ask the candidate, “Are you too dull to be president?” Gregory also cited Zeleny’s July 8th New York Times piece as evidence that “your campaign, by most accounts, it’s not doing very well,” and as the set up to ask Pawlenty: “Are you on the ropes at this early time?” Pawlenty’s answer, in part: “Well, I just announced my campaign six weeks ago, so I think it’s a little early for that.”

Gregory, for one, did not look convinced.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.