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12.30.11

Ron Paul Got a Free Pass From the Press Until His Polls Soared

The media ignored the congressman’s racist newsletters and quirky record until his polls soared. That was a grievous mistake.

It’s been hidden in plain view all year.

The explosive material that is fueling the negative coverage of Ron Paul, from his isolationist foreign policy to the racist newsletters published in his name, has been readily available to journalists. There was no need to assemble an investigative team to meet sources in parking garages; all that was required was a simple database search.

But in a stunning dereliction of duty, the vast majority of the press corps couldn’t be bothered.

We all know the media can’t walk, chew gum, and cover more than two presidential candidates at a time. All too often, journalists are like lemmings, marching in lockstep after whoever has gotten a bump in the polls. That’s why the news business has lurched from Trump to Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Newt to Paul (and perhaps now Santorum, who’s blipped up to third in Iowa in a CNN/Time survey).

But it’s not as though Paul had some hidden past that could be excavated only through dusty court records. He says stuff every day—eliminate aid to Israel, abolish the Fed, get rid of the income tax, bring American soldiers home from around the world—that would create a firestorm around any other candidate.

And yet he skated, because the press, in its infinite wisdom, decreed that the Texas congressman was a fringe figure, not a serious Republican contender, so the normal rules of coverage need not apply. He was relegated to sideshow status, treated as an eccentric uncle.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the media establishment woke up to the notion that Paul might win Iowa—this after belatedly realizing that Gingrich, also left for dead by the media, was a serious contender in the caucuses as well.

Suddenly, Paul’s views mattered. Suddenly, Paul’s record mattered. Suddenly, hard questions were being asked.

Which brings us to the newsletters.

For an ordinary politician aspiring to the presidency, it would be radioactive for his old newsletters to have opined that order was restored after the L.A. riots “when it became time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.” Or that the Martin Luther King holiday was “Hate Whitey Day.” Or that “if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be.” Or that “jury verdicts, basketball games, and even music are enough to set off black rage, it seems.”

But the story was already written during the 2008 campaign by James Kirchick in the New Republic. Did any reporter ask Paul about the newsletters before the last two weeks? Did any moderator quote the offensive language in one of the endless debates? Uh-uh.

Not until Kirchick essentially rewrote his piece for the Weekly Standard, and The New York Times picked it up, did the press examine this devastating paper trial.

To be sure, Paul says he never read most of what was published in the Ron Paul Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, and other similarly named journals. But even if we take him at his word, the questions are obvious: Why didn’t you know? What does this say about your management skills? Why would you associate with people who would put out this filth?

That these questions are just now starting to be asked, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, is an embarrassment for the media. And Paul’s testy responses make clear that he did not expect to have to explain these incendiary words that he now dismisses as old news.

What about talking to people who worked for the libertarian lawmaker? Had any journalists tried reaching Eric Dondero, a longtime and now disaffected Paul aide? In a blog post carried on Right Wing News, Dondero said his ex-boss is no racist or anti-Semite.

“He is however, most certainly Anti-Israel, and Anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs.”

Paul is not anti-gay, says Dondero, but is “personally uncomfortable around homosexuals,” once even going to considerable lengths to avoid using a gay supporter’s bathroom.

And Paul is most definitely an isolationist: “He strenuously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in WWII. He expressed to me countless times, that ‘saving the Jews,’ was absolutely none of our business. When pressed, he often times brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks of Pearl Harbor weeks before hand, or that WWII was just ‘blowback,’ for Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy errors, and such.”

Even now, Dondero’s indictment has received scant coverage. Imagine if a former aide had leveled even a fraction of such criticism against Mitt Romney?

Paul has skated because the press, in its infinite wisdom, decreed that the Texas congressman was a fringe figure.

The Paul campaign says Dondero is disgruntled because he was fired in 2003. “That is a complete and utter lie,” Dondero told CNN. “And there’s an e-mail out from the former chief of staff, Tom Lazar, that says that that is not true.” Dondero says he quit because of Paul’s opposition to the Iraq war.

None of this is to argue that the media had a duty to “expose” Paul long before the primaries began. The voters are perfectly capable of deciding whether this man is a plausible president.

But the press does have a responsibility to examine the public record of each candidate in the race rather than deciding in advance that a congressman who ran a plausible campaign last time is nonetheless a certified loser unworthy of even a cursory examination. The pattern was established with Herman Cain, who might still have a shot at the nomination had the sexual misconduct allegations not surfaced, and with Newt Gingrich, whose business record (Freddie Mac advocacy and the rest) came under scrutiny only after he resurrected his struggling campaign.

With Paul neck and neck with Romney in Iowa, the kind of basic reporting that is just starting to surface is long overdue.