Today, the Boston Globe’s Peter S. Canellos, in his weekly “National Perspective” analysis, muses about John Kerry’s future, noting that “Kerry might actually be serious about playing an important role over the next few years,” and that “he might even be planning another presidential run.”

This would not be “surprising,” Canellos tells readers, “if Kerry were a Republican,” since Republican candidates “are groomed over a long period, and losing is often a part of the credentialing process,” whereas Democrats tend to discard losing candidates.

Canellos continues: “One reason Democratic candidates so often fall prey to Republican efforts to ‘define them’ through negative ads is that they are undefined to begin with…’” But there’s another reason any candidate might “fall prey to” his opponent’s efforts to “define” him through negative ads or otherwise. And that reason is a compliant press all too willing to run with whatever “definition” a candidate’s opponent pins on him. Campaign Desk has written about this before. Whenever political reporters sit down to write a what-went-wrong piece, or to perform the autopsy of a failed campaign, they suddenly become invisible to themselves. Faced with an inability to acknowledge the elephant in the room — that is, their own role in reducing the candidate to a caricature — they are struck dumb.

To Canellos’ credit, he does note in passing that “the media” is a factor of sorts. He writes: “… even without encouragement from the Republicans, the media are quick to vet any unknown figure. And as past disputes or foibles” of the candidate thrust suddenly onto the national stage get bounced around the media echo chamber, “the public has no favorable associations to measure them against.” (Sound familiar, Howard Dean?) That is not “vetting.” That is, as Jon Stewart once put it, “hurting America.”

Canellos goes on: “When a group of swift boat veterans questioned the circumstances behind some of Kerry’s war medals, the candidate’s favorability plunged nine percentage points in one poll.” What Canellos might more accurately have written is: “When a group of swift boat veterans questioned the circumstances behind some of Kerry’s war medals and got weeks of unquestioning press coverage before any reporter thought to ‘vet’ the vets, the candidate’s favorability plunged nine percentage points in one poll.”

Canellos’ pat conclusion? “There is every reason to believe that [Kerry] — as well as Edwards and Dean — would be better candidates for having run before. And the country would get less talk of swift boats, screams, or hair products, and more of a chance for serious debate.” Hmmm. Kerry, Edwards and Dean should thank the press for “vetting” them this go-around because they’ll be better for it in 2008? And, now that the press has gotten this “vetting” out of its system, “there is every reason to believe” that should these three candidates run again in ‘08 the country will get — from this same press — “less talk of swift boats, screams or hair products”?

We’ll believe that when we see it. Until then, for Canellos and his peers in the political press: The first step is to acknowledge that you have a problem — or, more particularly, that you’re part of the problem.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.