Look at recent coverage of Mitt Romney.
A Newsweek magazine cover headlined ROMNEY: THE WIMP FACTOR asks: "Is he just too insecure to be president?"
Coverage of Mitt's travels abroad focuses on comments regarding England's preparedness for the London Olympics and a reference to the value of "culture" in Israel's economic success.
When a British tabloid, the Sun, runs the headline MITT THE TWIT on its cover, it plays nicely into the "wimp" charge set off across the pond.
When a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calls Romney's praise for Israel "racist," it's repeated as evidence of a major Mitt misstep.
I'm not saying that Mitt's a master of machismo or that his overseas junket was a diplomatic coup.
I'm saying his shortcomings are much shorter than represented.
Romney isn't running for superhero, ambassador to the Court of St. James or would-be American envoy to the Palestinian Authority.
If fair-minded American voters think past headlines and sound bites, they might question how a man who made $250 million without inheriting a company and who (rightly or wrongly) thumbs his nose at national-media caterwauling over his tax returns qualifies as a "wimp."
They also might question exactly how it's an international faux pas for someone who ran an Olympics to express concern about security surrounding the staging of an Olympics.
They may even wonder who cares what some Palestinian says about any American politician.
The Obama campaign Tuesday held a national press call on Romney's trip. Senior adviser Robert Gibbs used phrases such as "embarrassing disaster," and suggested that Romney might be "unable to represent America."
What I wonder is this: Isn't there a chance that constant negative media attention and incessant drumming by opponents create sympathy for Romney?
Let's say you believe, as I do, that rarely in politics is anything as good or as bad as portrayed.
Let's say you believe, as I do, that most politics provide limited information for short-term attention and are far more committed to ideological agendas and electoral outcomes than to truth.
What do you care about? Protecting your family? Your health? Your job? Your future?
What are you hearing from candidates or media to help you decide whom to vote for based on what you care about?
I'm hearing lots of noise offered as important: foreign "gaffes" about Middle East sensitivity to single words; domestic "gaffes" about U.S. small business being dependent on government.
I'm hearing candidates and campaigns talk about Israeli "culture" and "you didn't build that."
Normal sparring between press and pols designed to inform the public and to hold candidates accountable on real issues seems a lost art, a sweet science replaced by something akin to professional wrestling.
Good guys and bad guys, easy to tell apart. And all fake.
Too much mass media devalues itself with its own hype and slants. Too many citizens accept entertainment and fact-free rage as news and useful comment.
The result could mean sympathy for pols subjected to such slants; or more and more citizens simply turning off — certainly unintended consequences.
Maybe the moguls behind so much of the modern media should rethink their careers. Maybe they should become watchmakers. n
For recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.