Republican Rand Paul certainly seems to be riding an extended wave of glowing press coverage, as reporters and commentators line up to dub the Kentucky senator a deeply fascinating man.
From Politico: "Rand Paul, The Most Interesting Man in Politics."
The Washington Post: "Rand Paul Is The Most Interesting Man In The (Political) World"
And now this week's cover story from Time: "The Most Interesting Man In Politics."
What the supportive Paul coverage lacks in originality, it makes up for in passion and admiration. We've learned Paul represents "the most interesting voice in the GOP right now." He boasts a "supple mind" and is a “preternaturally confident speaker.” And from Time, Paul spoke to a recent crowd “with the enthusiasm of a graduate student in the early rapture of ideas.”
There appears to be such a media rush to toast Paul as a Republican freethinker that the feel-good coverage sometimes confuses what he actually stands for. Note that Politico claimed the senator's “instinctive libertarianism, meanwhile, plays well with America's pro-pot, pro-gay marriage younger generation.”
Fact: Paul opposes gay marriage.
Nonetheless, the glowing press clips pile up, with Time's cover story representing the most recent entry. In April 2013, the Kentucky senator graced Time's cover when he was dubbed one of the 100 Most Influential people in the World. (Paul's entry was written by Sarah Palin, who declared that his “brand of libertarian-leaning conservatism attracts young voters.”)
What's especially odd about Time's most recent salute is that the magazine essentially published the same laudatory Rand Paul feature last year. It marveled at his political rise and suggested he might change the course of the GOP (“Can he reshape [the] party”), which is precisely what this week's cover story is about. (“Can he fix what ails the GOP?”)
But there's something about Time's supportive Paul coverage that stands out. Indeed, the publication has morphed into something of a national cheering section for the Kentucky Republican, obediently covering his appearances, typing up as news his attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton, and publishing his first-person essays.
The weekly's high-voltage stargazing kicked off over the summer with the July 21 report headlined, “Sen. Rand Paul Is Killing It On Twitter: 10 Tweets You Should See.” The piece was an enthusiastic look at how wonderful Rand's Twitter feed is. (Time especially loved the pic of the senator's rainbow-colored socks: “No words.”)
The following month Time treated as news the fact that Paul often insults Hillary Clinton in public: “Some politicians attack in prose. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul can do it in poetry--with color, precision and language that's hard to forget.”
Time conceded most of Paul's attacks were “unfair.” Nonetheless, the magazine devoted an entire article to amplifying the inaccurate put-downs. Why? Because “what matters at the moment is not accuracy, but political calculation and execution.”
On August 14, Paul himself wrote an essay for Time, “We Must Demilitarize the Police.”
Two weeks later, Time again treated as news Paul's attacks on Hillary. (“Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is positioning himself as the GOP's ace Clinton critic.”) One week after that, Paul wrote another essay for Time, “I Am Not an Isolationist.”
The following week, Time highlighted Paul's attack on Secretary of State John Kerry. (He's “intellectually dishonest.”) Eight days later, Time made sure to cover Paul's appearance at a conference for conservative activists. That same day Paul again published an essay at Time, “America Is in a Full-Blown Spiritual Crisis.”
Two weeks later, Time treated as news Paul's trip to Ferguson, Missouri. Then this week, came the Time cover story: “The Most Interesting Man In Politics.”
Note that most of the Time articles referenced above were stand-alone items that focused on Rand. Also, note that no other Republican who's expected to run for president in 2016 enjoys this kind of gold-star coverage at Time. (And no, neither does Hillary Clinton.) Instead, this seems to be special treatment carved out just for the junior senator from Kentucky. And what really has emerged as the hallmark of Time's on-going Paul coverage is too often giving the senator a pass.
For instance, note how the weekly's 3,300-word profile ignored Paul's chronic plagiarism, and danced around his recent foreign policy U-turn. Once a proud isolationist who berated opponents as war hawks, Paul seemed to suddenly abandon his libertarian beliefs when public concern spiked this summer over the rising threat of the Islamic State. Paul then backed swift military action.
That's what known in politics as a flip-flop, and lots of journalists have freely applied that standard to Paul's dramatic turn-about. But not Time, which insists Paul's drastic policy shift simply reflects his “complexity.”
Note this section, as the magazine marveled as Paul's ability to make news [emphasis added]:
Where the father was often clumsy, Rand can be adroit. In four years in the Senate, he has proved himself an able knife fighter, eager to insert himself with a few choice words into just about any debate. He has been pushing party leader Mitch McConnell to appoint a Republican press secretary for Congress, who could counter the daily White House briefings with briefings of his own. “Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?” he asked in a recent talk-radio interview, words that quickly went viral, despite their distant probability. he asked in a recent talk-radio interview, words that quickly went viral, despite their distant probability.
It was “adroit” when Paul offered up bizarre speculation, at a time of genuine public concern, that a "whole ship full" of American soldiers might become infected with Ebola? Paul has repeatedly been called out in recent weeks for saying inaccurate things about the virus and the government's response to it.
But again, according to Time's overly generous Rand Paul standard, his comments need not be accurate, or even responsible. They simply have to generate news (i.e. go “viral”) in order to pass as nimble and clever.
And that's how Time helps Rand Paul become The Most Interesting Man In Politics.