So what counts as a “gaffe” in the eyes of the press corps?

We’re getting an excellent lesson in it this week, with the formal rollout of the Michele Bachmann presidential candidacy. Bachmann is taking heat for what seems to me to be a relatively minor mistake in Americana and for a misstatement of early American history.

You know what’s not getting nearly the same treatment? Bachmann has been going around for some time now, including on her Sunday TV appearances, spouting absolute nonsense about the debt ceiling. She’s claiming that somehow it would be no big deal if the limit wasn’t raised.

And yet, while her “gaffes” are getting pilloried by reporters, that assertion is just getting he-said-she-said type “balanced” reporting (see, for example, this AP story).

We’re not talking here about a peripheral issue, or trivia: this is perhaps the central current issue in American government, and she’s simply dead wrong about it.

Need evidence? Stan Collender reminds us that, regardless of what else happens, promised credit rating downgrades would be devastating all by themselves. See also Secretary Geithner’s description of the consequences of default, or this Congressional Research Service report.

In the unlikely event that Michele Bachmann becomes president, it’s really not going to matter too much if she flunks American history or gets a few facts wrong. But the fact that she believes that hitting the debt limit is harmless and is flat-out against raising it regardless of the actual consequences ... well, that’s a truly radical position that raises serious questions about her readiness to be president.

Even if it doesn’t meet the media’s “gaffe” standard.