And indeed, in the wake of the Courier-Journal editorial Paul seems to have gone back to business without facing the sort of sustained scrutiny that he has come under over the past week. But that’s likely as much a product of habitual press shortcomings as any particular weakness of the Kentucky press corps. Candidates are covered through the lens of the campaign they’re in, and—however much we’d like the press to set the agenda—campaigns are usually covered through the lenses offered by the candidates. During the Republican primary, Paul presented a story—about an outsider coming to challenge the establishment—that was embraced by much of the press, including the national press, which was looking for a true test of the Tea Party storyline that’s been building for over a year. (This is not to say that the press wanted the outsider to succeed or fail—just that it was the frame used to talk about the race.)
Paul’s primary opponent, meanwhile, did try to call attention to his “strange ideas”—but in a Republican primary, that meant his thinking about foreign policy and detainees, which, however consequential they may be, are not perennial high-wattage issues. It wasn’t until the primaries were over that anyone in the press—national or local—picked up the thread from the Courier-Journal and started pressing Paul on the implications of his thinking for hot-button domestic policy debates (with Democratic nominee Jack Conway, his general election opponent, doing all he can to keep the issue alive). In other words, this looks like political journalism as it is regularly practiced, for better and for worse.
If that is what’s going on, it means that Paul is going to come in for some closer, and wider-ranging, scrutiny from the in-state press in the months ahead (as will, we hope, Conway, who just prevailed in a tightly contested but mostly overlooked Democratic primary). Green seems skeptical of that; in a post Monday he flagged the difference in tone between David Gregory’s remarks on Meet the Press and a local newscast. Head over to the Courier-Journal site, though, and you can find plenty of coverage of Paul’s recent troubles, including a headline that boasts, “Rand Paul embroiled in
Civil Rights controversy over remarks made on Courier-Journal video interview.” A Sunday column by the paper’s James Carroll, meanwhile, had this to say:
With his comments on civil rights, Paul has broadened the conversation that dominated the primary campaign about the role of government in spending (and related issues on taxes and debt).
Now, Paul’s views on the nature of the role of the federal government in American life are going to get closer examination. It is a natural consequence of his becoming the Republican nominee for the Senate.
People naturally will want to know the implications of Paul’s views on federal “overreach,” and whether his philosophy of limited government means he supports or opposes any number of programs or laws. The list of questions is potentially endless.
That sounds like a fair description of how media agendas actually get set, and a promise to keep asking those questions. Let’s hope that the press—in Kentucky and outside it—lives up to that pledge.