In the Whack-A-Mole style of many political reporters, the pundits attacked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with errant criticism exactly as he started to gain traction as a GOP presidential possibility.
Furthermore, it seemed clear that some journalists wanted to take down Mr. Walker as he soared in the polls, particularly in Iowa and Texas.
In recent days, Mr. Walker faced criticism for not responding to a question about evolution. Is that what is on voters’ minds? In a 2014 Gallup Poll, most people said they think God created humans in their present form or played a role. An earlier poll found that a majority of respondents said a candidate’s views on evolution or independent design would play no role in how they voted.
The Wisconsin governor then got pilloried for his failure to finish college. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean mused, “The issue is how well educated is this guy?”
On Fox News, Mr. Walker replied, “That’s the kind of elitist, government-knows-best, top-down approach we’ve had for years.” The Republican governor then turned the attention back to President Obama.
“We’ve had an Ivy-trained lawyer in the White House for six years who’s pretty good at reading off the teleprompter, but has done a pretty lousy job leading this country,” Mr. Walker said.
In the continuing attack on the potential GOP contender, many journalists went ballistic when he failed to distance himself from Rudolph W. Giuliani’s questioning Mr. Obama’s love for the U.S.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank argued that Mr. Walker’s decision not to comment should eliminate him from consideration as the GOP candidate. “He displayed a cowardice unworthy of a man who would be president,” the columnist claimed. The news organization also criticized Mr. Walker’s “spineless silence” in an editorial.
Jazz Shaw of HotAir.com correctly countered, “The fact that [Mr.] Milbank can publish something like this with a straight face is rather emblematic of how far the Fourth Estate has fallen and the generally sad state of affairs when it comes to mainstream political commentary.”
The press also criticized Mr. Walker for failing to answer a question about the president’s Christianity, proposing a budget cut for the University of Wisconsin and crushing the labor movement in his state.
Gail Collins, a columnist for The New York Times, even blamed Mr. Walker for the layoff of an award-winning teacher in 2010. Unfortunately for Ms. Collins and her readers, the Wisconsin governor didn’t take office until the next year, so his policies had nothing to do with the layoff.
Mr. Walker skillfully turned the questions back on the media. That tactic proved successful for Ronald Reagan, who talked over the heads of the media to the public.
At a convention this week in Nashville, Tennessee, the Wisconsin governor told the audience that the media asked him questions he considered irrelevant to most people. “We’re going to talk about the things that matter to everyday Americans and we’re going to leave the nonsense to the media on the side,” he said.
Mr. Walker, who has won 11 straight elections, apparently has decided to combat Whack-A-Mole journalists with a rope-a-dope technique, made famous by Muhammad Ali. The famed boxer covered himself on the ropes, easily defeating George Foreman, a stronger and younger man who tired from repeatedly punching his elusive opponent.
Mr. Walker’s attack on the media may have resonance with the voters.
Even though he may not have a college degree, he sure seems a lot smarter than the people who have criticized him, particularly when you look at the electorate’s negative view of the press.
• Christopher Harper is a longtime reporter who teaches journalism at Temple University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @charper51.