There are empty seats on the Howard Dean press bus these days, and the reporters covering the former frontrunner feel as though they’re on a “ghoul patrol,” according to a story by Jim Rutenberg in The New York Times today.
Many in the Dean campaign have blamed the reporters themselves for their candidate’s recent difficulties in keeping his message (as well as name and face) in front of voters. As Dean’s prospects diminish, so does the coverage, and the campaign goes into a freefall.
The gist of Rutenberg’s article is that the opposite is true; that pressure is great for reporters to promote the candidate they are covering, not to bring him down. After all, he writes, covering a winner means more for a reporter than some good anecdotes for the grandkids. These days, it can mean a hefty book contract or promotions to juicy new assignments. And when the winner becomes a loser, so do the reporters covering him. (One can almost hear a gravel-voiced editor at News Central, saying: “Who is it that’s calling? Whatsisname with Dean in Wisconsin? Ehhh … put his story on page 36.”)
If you buy that theory — and we’re not sure that we do — every reporter who’s work ever exposed a candidate’s flaws would have doomed himself to professional obscurity. We’ve heard of dogs eating their own tails, but somehow we doubt that it works quite that way in the nation’s newsrooms.