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Friday, Apr. 4 2008

Ron Paul, Gone But Not Forgotten, Could Teach The Media a Lesson


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NEW YORK -- Ron Paul may be gone, but he should not be forgotten.

At this advanced stage of the presidential race, it probably seems bizarre that anyone would be writing about a guy who had as much of a chance to be president as Harold Stassen, who made nine unsuccessful bids for the Republican nomination between 1948 and 1992.

Throughout the campaign, the media have treated Paul as a footnote. Snickering pundits all but dismissed him as a cranky kook, in the tradition of another Lone Star State insurgent, Ross Perot. Even when the mainstream publications covered him, you could imagine the assignment editors rolling their eyes in amusement, like parents patronizing a child.

Yet anyone who looked hard enough knew that there was more to Paul than an inability to amass delegates. Most of the media, turned off by his shrill libertarian leanings, missed the real news value of Paul's story -- namely, the Texas congressman's ability to connect intensely with voters.

Successful fundraising

Paul certainly inspired them to open their wallets. On Dec. 16 alone, Paul raised $6 million, which has been described as the biggest one-day take ever. (It also yielded the coolest phrase to emerge from this campaign: "money bomb," which refers to a grassroots fundraising effort over a brief fixed time period.)

According to the Washington Post, the dough came "from more than 50,000 donors, half of whom were new donors."

The day after this burst of political funding, the Washington Post's Web site noted that Paul's "rock star status on the Internet had single-handedly fueled his campaign." In fact, no other candidate except Sen. Barack Obama used the Internet as effectively to his advantage.

The Post pointed out that Paul's campaign also raked in $4.3 million on Nov. 5, which is Guy Fawkes Day, marking "a symbol of rebellion in British history." The report also mentioned that Dec. 16 was the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

The ardor of Paul's peeps hasn't dimmed. As recently as March 26, Elizabeth MacDonald, the stocks editor at Fox Business Network, wrote about Paul in her blog and received 411 reader comments. (Hey, I'd settle for one-fifth as many responses for this column, Media Web readers, so get to work!)

"Thank you for finally getting a good word in about Ron Paul" and "Thank God someone's showing some sense and finally listening to the man!" were typical of the responses that MacDonald received. (Fox, like MarketWatch, is a unit of News Corp. (NWS) .)

Focus on other candidates

Instead of writing much about Paul, the national media devoted a great deal of time and space to Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and never-was candidate Michael Bloomberg, all of whom sizzled at various times in the race, but whose newsworthiness ultimately faded compared to Obama, Clinton and McCain.

Predictably, the media also focused almost entirely on "scoops" about the marquee candidates, even if their bulletins sometimes consisted of what the likely winners had for breakfast.

I'm not suggesting that Paul should've been covered as a candidate who might have threatened McCain in the Republican delegate count.

But the hard-core loyalty of his backers remains one of the most newsworthy, if unwritten, stories of this presidential campaign.

MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: How would you rate the media's coverage of Ron Paul's 2008 campaign: a) spot-on b) patronizing c) disappointing d) atrocious?

FRIDAY STORY OF THE WEEK: "The Interpreter of Memories from The Killing Fields" by Elizabeth Becker (Washington Post, April 1): This was the most eloquent testimonial to Dith Pran, an unsung hero of modern journalism who recently died of cancer at age 65.

To Becker, Pran was the heroic "resourceful eyes and ears of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg" in the movie "The Killing Fields." Pran was the "quiet Cambodian employed by the aggressive American to interpret the language, culture and politics of Cambodia. And it is Pran who risks his life over and over again for his friends as his country is blown to bits, motivated by courage, loyalty and love rather than a newspaper reporter's deadline or sense of righteous indignation."

Becker writes lovingly about a stranger who helped her do her job:

"Pran, the informal dean of the Cambodian press corps, watched me struggle for a few months. When he was convinced I was something more than an American hippie, he took me under his wing. First he made sure I had the wherewithal to do my job.

'Becker,' he said. 'Take my car.'

For several months, Pran lent me his Volkswagen Beetle free, until I landed better employment than my $150-a-month gig with a now defunct newsmagazine. When I became the contract stringer for the Washington Post (WPO) , a competitor of his employer, the New York Times (NYT) , Pran said it didn't matter. We were still colleagues. We still shared news tips because then, as now, colleagues could die blundering down the wrong highway." Read the full article.

READERS RESPOND to my column about the Newseum, soon to open in Washington, D.C.:

"Just had to write and thank you for speaking out on the Newseum. After 35 years in print journalism, I have no desire to ever set foot inside the Nauseum (sic intended). I never thought there could be a building large enough to hold all those egos!"

-- Darryal Ray

"Jon, tempting as it is, I think I'll save my vacation time to visit... maybe the museum of mustard in southern Wisconsin."

-- Mark Weiss

Media Web appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Feel free to send email to jfriedman@marketwatch.com.

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