No matter how many angles I look at this from, I just can’t see it as a story. I mean, come on: Challenging someone to a million dollar bet is a routine expression: “I’ll bet you a million dollars!”

Even if you assume Romney actually meant to challenge Perry to a bet, it’s hard to see why this is all that revealing. Some have said his suggestion of such a large sum for a casual wager suggests he sees that sum as trivial, proving he’s out of touch. But if Romney was trying to bluff Perry into standing down, it’s not clear why he’d suggest a trivial wager in order to accomplish this. It’s hard to see how this episode was revealing of anything other than that Romney is prone to fits of awkward bravado.

But a hugely newsworthy “gaffe”? This is one of those examples where this is only a gaffe because the media, egged on by opposing politicians, declared it to be one. As Kevin Drum puts it:

I am willing to bet $10,000 that ordinary viewers barely even noticed Romney’s bet until the punditocracy decided to make it the defining moment of the debate. This whole thing is just a ridiculous media concoction.

Meanwhile, Steve Benen adds that there is a far more important story that actually does go to the heart of Romney’s character that isn’t getting widely told:

So why does “10,000 bucks” get picked up far and wide, while “Romney has a problem telling the truth” doesn’t? If I had to guess, I’d say it probably has to do with the media’s comfort — or in some cases, its lack thereof — with various narratives. Establishment news outlets don’t mind saying Romney is an out-of-touch elitist, but they do mind saying he’s an uncontrollable liar. The former just doesn’t seem especially harsh, so it’s well within the confines of polite discourse. The latter may be demonstrably fair and bolstered by ample evidence, but the media remains reluctant to go there.

At this point, the familiar refrain kicks in: Well, the $10,000 bet might not have been a story if it didn’t feed into previously established impressions of Romney’s vulnerabilities. Sorry, but that’s just B.S. That was the justification for making John Kerry’s joke about the troops being stuck in Iraq a days-long story. You see, Dems are already vulnerable to charges that they’re tone deaf on matters involving the troops, and now we have a data point confirming that, so it’s a story, and by the way, this proves what we said along about Dems being vulnerable to charges that they’re tone deaf on matters involving the troops! This is all self-justifying and self-reinforcing.

Yet this happens in cycle after cycle. The press sees a need to shoehorn individual theatrical moments into a larger, press-concocted narrative about a candidate’s character, and nonstories become days-long obsessions. Whether it was Al Gore’s sigh, John Kerry’s French-speaking, or John Edwards’ $400 haircut, we all tore our hair out when the press went mad ascribing great significance to those matters. Yet here people are having a grand old time pumping up the Romney bet non-story.

Live by the freak show, die by the freak show.