How the Media Botched Coverage of Rand Paul in 2010


Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has a long piece excoriating mainstream journalists' coverage of Rand Paul back when he was first running for Senate, particularly the focus–to the exclusion of much anything else–on his discomfort with the private property provisions in the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Excerpt:

Three years later, it is beyond dispute: Paul is a leading opponent of civil-liberties abrogations, executive-power excesses, and militarism. Safe to say, after last week's filibuster, that his stands on those issues are the most visible and consequential that he has taken in the Senate. Even prior to that 13-hour spectacle, Paul mounted high-profile, sometimes lonely efforts to reform the Patriot Act; formally end the president's authorization to wage war in Iraq; reform drug laws; prevent indefinite detention; extend Fourth Amendment protections to electronic communications; require warrants for drone surveillance; reform overzealous TSA screening procedures; and stop an anti-piracy bill that would have onerously infringed on free expression online.

He's also opposed calls to wage war in Libya, Syria, and Iran.        

In light of this record, the establishment press ought to reflect upon the fact that its 2010 coverage utterly failed to anticipate the most important consequences of electing Paul to the Senate. Go back, as I just did, and read every story The New York Times published about him. Its coverage was representative: The paper paid little attention to his anti-war, pro-civil liberties, pro-checks-and-balances proclivities, though those issues were certain to loom large between 2010 and 2016; it paid some attention to the political import of a possible victory by a Tea Party Republican; and it focused intensely on Paul's position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, legislation that passed when he was two years old and certainly won't be revisited in the foreseeable future.

Here's a useful comparison and future test of media proportionality:

Compare the reaction to Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act to Michael Bloomberg's ongoing stop-and-frisk policy and the NYPD task force he sent to New Jersey to spy on innocent Muslim college students. I understand why the Civil Rights Act is regarded as sacrosanct, but treating non-racist, abstract discomfort with one of its provisions as a more important than actual, ongoing state harassment of innocent blacks and Muslims is bonkers. It isn't that no liberal has ever objected to Bloomberg's excesses, but tell me this: If pitted against one another in the 2016 presidential election, do you think the press would give Paul or Bloomberg a harder time on matters of race? What do you think would garner more mentions, the Civil Rights Act or spying on innocent Muslim students for months without producing any leads?

Why is that?

Friedersdorf hazards some guesses in the piece. Reason on Rand Paul here, including my latest editor's note, our cover story from June 2011, and our first feature on the candidate in 2010. Link via the Twitter feed of Justin Raimondo.