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Does Ron Paul deserve more coverage?

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Has The Post given Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul short shrift in coverage?

The ombudsman, like most mainstream media outlets, got hit with a wave of pro-Paul e-mails just after the Aug. 13 Iowa straw poll in which the Texas representative finished a few corn silk strands behind Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. I received more e-mails after the most recent national Gallup Poll showed Paul ahead of Bachmann and third behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Paul supporters think these results put him into the top tier of candidates. But most of the major television stories that followed the Iowa event, as Jon Stewart so aptly lampooned, barely mentioned Paul.

Overall, The Post’s record on Paul coverage is sparse.

The Post’s main politics blog, The Fix by Chris Cillizza and compatriots, had by the far the most coverage of Paul of any of The Post’s publishing venues, with about nine posts mainly or substantially about Paul, but dozens more where he is mentioned once or twice along with the other GOP candidates. If you’re a print reader, you don’t see much of this, but I’ve compiled it all on the omblog. Cillizza also was one of the few political analysts before the Iowa poll saying that Paul could place first or second in the poll.

The analysis of Paul’s campaign on The Fix, and in fuller staff-written stories for print and online, has been accurate but also somewhat dismissive. Post political correspondents Dan Balz and Philip Rucker declared on Aug. 14 that Perry, Romney and Bachmann were the top tier, with barely a reference to Ron Paul.

Paul’s national press secretary, Gary Howard, is frustrated. He said his candidate has “proven himself to be at least in the top four.” He said he looks at The Post Politics Web site and sees a story, brief or blog post almost every day about Perry, Romney and Bachmann. So why not on Paul?

Steven Ginsberg, The Post’s national political editor, countered that Paul has “gotten every bit of the coverage he deserves. We covered him quite a bit over all our platforms. . . . We take him seriously.”

The Post looks at several factors in assigning reporters to the GOP field, Ginsberg said, including national and state polling data, and the credibility and robustness of the candidate’s campaign organization, as well as how much money he or she has raised.

Ginsberg said he has noticed Paul’s uptick in recent polls, his good fundraising record and his stronger campaign team. He said that after Labor Day more coverage would be coming.

Still, The Post’s coverage of Paul looks thin compared with its stories on Bachmann. In the past six months, The Post has published online or in print 34 staff-written stories plus 12 wire service stories on Bachmann, who has served not even five years in the House, and that doesn’t count the blog posts about her on The Fix or Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker pieces. The Post published 19 staff-written stories on former House speaker Newt Gingrich in that time, plus one wire story and many blog posts. On Paul, a congressman for more than 20 years, who was No. 2 in fundraising after Romney in the last report, The Post has published just three full stories, a couple more that had large sections on him along with other candidates, two wire stories and The Fix blog posts.

Ginsberg acknowledged the gap in coverage but said there were valid news reasons for it. Gingrich’s campaign imploded when most of his senior staff walked out in June. Bachmann did well in the first debate of the season in June in New Hampshire, raised a lot of money quickly, was rising in the polls and won the Iowa straw poll. Plus, Ginsberg said, she is a new face whom a lot of readers don’t know well and want more information about, unlike Paul who ran nationally four years ago and is more familiar.

I think The Post could have done much better on Ron Paul. But my fondest hope is that in addition to the horse-race, campaign-finance and personality stories, we see in-depth stories on how the candidates stand on the issues.

Ron Paul, for example, is always referred to as a libertarian, but many of his positions are at odds with that ideology. And he wants to abolish the federal income, estate, capital gains and gasoline taxes, which together make up about half of the U.S. government’s annual revenue. Which half of the government would he eliminate?

He hasn’t said. Readers want to know.

Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com.

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