Sure, you could say, the exchange gained the traction it did because Obama happened to use the phrase “spread the wealth around” in the course of his discussion with Wurzelbacher, which—socialism alert!—made it spread like wildfire among conservative media outlets. And, sure, McCain is being cynical in framing Wurzelbacher’s situation as evidence of Obama’s desire for “class warfare,” as he did last night—and, generally, in framing himself as the working man’s only friend in Washington. Perhaps, taken together, the media have a reason to be jaundiced toward someone like Joe.

Still, though, the media need to be framing candidates’ economic policies in terms of how they’ll affect people. That’s a large part of their job. The initial exchange between Wurzelbacher and Obama was, above all, a great example of the give-and-take that should be occurring between the candidates and the voters; it’d be great if the media would make themselves part of that conversation. As Clint put it today on The Kicker, “As Joe The Plumber enjoys his 15 minutes, would it be too much to ask that some of that time be devoted to fair-minded determinations of how the candidates’ respective tax and health care plans would affect people like Joe? How about to finding out roughly how many Americans are in situations roughly similar to Joe?”

While we’re asking those questions, it’s also worth wondering why, exactly, we have an impulse toward irony when it comes to people like Joe. And whether that impulse might just have something to do with the fact that so many Americans mistrust the media.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.