Friday, September 23, 2011

Joey Skaggs and Rick Perry

I remember an interview with the great prankster Joey Skaggs. Skaggs had a long history of getting major news outlets to report his over-the-top hoaxes as actual news, often scamming the same outlet multiple times. When asked how he managed to avoid running into the same reporters he explained that he would often see people who had covered previous hoaxes but they always had the same reaction: they would pause for a moment trying to place where they had seen him before then would shake it off and go on with the report. I don't have access to the interview, but if memory serves, Skaggs explained that they wanted to believe in the story and that was enough to make them put aside the first-hand experience that told them not to believe it.

I was thinking about Skaggs as I followed the press' eagerness to anoint Perry the GOP candidate for 2012. The press always gets worked up about these late entrants to weak fields. Pundits focus on strengths, downplay weaknesses and fill in the numerous blanks with the most positive possible outcomes. (You can also see this happening with Chris Christie). But I can't think of a case where a Republican entrant has actually jumped into the race (effectively) after the Ames Straw Poll and actually gotten the nomination.

I may be forgetting about an obvious example and even if I'm not it's possible that Perry will get the nomination and even the presidency, but given the recent turn in sentiment both with pundits and at least one (possibly unrepresentative) sample of GOP voters, it's clear that Perry was to a degree a Rorschach candidate.

Why did did so many reporters not anticipate the rough patch that new candidates always face when those initial unknowns are filled in? Why do journalists continue to consistently overrate the chances of entrants who jump in at the last minute? The same reason that the CNN crew didn't recognize Skaggs when he claimed to have written a program that would decide if O.J. Simpson was guilty, because they wanted to believe a good story.

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