The Most-Covered GOP Presidential Candidate of 2011 Was Herman Cain

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 21 2011 1:33 PM

The Most-Covered GOP Presidential Candidate of 2011 Was Herman Cain

Via Michael Calderone, the Pew Center has done the math. Herman Cain was the primary newsmaker in 577 stories through 2011, 50 more than Mitt Romney and 104 more than Rick Perry.

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Calderone takes this in and exhales with a gut-deep sigh of resignation. "Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the media focused more on Cain's gaffes and damage control than, say, on substantive foreign policy issues," he writes, "given that 2010's most-covered candidate was Christine O'Donnell."

I'm going to defend the media on this one. The coverage of O'Donnell was frothy, stupid (ha ha, classic Bill Maher clips!), and completely unrelated to the story she was participating in: Who will be the next senator from Delaware. She never, ever, led in any polls -- she was one of actually very few Tea Party candidates who blew elections by being too crazy for their electorates.

Can't say this about Cain. For a brief, dizzy moment, he led in primary polls, nationally and in key states. Had the Iowa caucuses been held on October 30, he might have won them. It made sense for the media to ask who he was, and what the hell was happening -- what it meant in 2011, for the GOP, that a willfully ignorant pizza magnate could lead the likes of Mitt Romney in polls for the presidency. It turned out, because of sexual harassment allegations that Cain had never talked about, that he could not have won. But some of the "primary stories" here were exposes of his scandals. Why shouldn't the media blow open the closet of a guy whom 20-30 percent of Republicans wanted to nominate?

Cain and O'Donnell had something in common, sure. If they could never win, they could use political campaigns to enrich their "brands." O'Donnell, a frequent fringe candidate, got a book deal. Cain, a fairly obscure radio host, got a new book deal, and may get a TV show. But Cain was not a media creation as O'Donnell was.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.