Was Press Not Allowed to Cover “Substantive” Issues Before VP Ryan Pick?

Rushing to claim Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick of Rep. Paul Ryan had immediately “altered” the White House race by making it seem “more consequential,” as the New York Times framed it, reporters and pundits quickly coalesced around the claim that Ryan's presence would usher in a more “substantive” phase of the campaign.

Pointing to Ryan's work as the chairman of the House Budget Committee and his authorship of the Republicans' budget blueprint, which has become a rallying point for movement conservatives, the press generously insisted that not only is Ryan a serious player and important public policy wonk, but that his inclusion in the campaign would quickly elevate the level of the debate, as well as how the press covers the campaign.

The new narrative, which must have pleased Romney aides, was born nearly the moment word of the VP announcement was leaked Saturday morning. CNN's Wolf Blitzer quickly reported the race was about to get “much more substantive,” while colleague Gloria Borger agreed, suggesting, “the debate is going to shift onto a very substantive ground.”

Over at Fox News, Carl Cameron assured viewers the arrival of Ryan meant the debate “will be a more substantive one than a lot of back-biting and name calling that we've seen in the last few weeks.”

And Fox's Ed Henry echoed the same point, stressing that the press would soon be able to shift gears in terms of its coverage:

HENRY: We've spent a lot over the last few days talking about some of these attack ads and who's been going after who on personal, negative attacks. This Ryan addition to the ticket might focus it in a bit more on some of those substantive policy issues that Mitt Romney's been saying he wants to focus on.

See, thanks to Ryan the press will finally be able to cover substance! This, from the same process-obsessed press corps that spent weeks treating as news the trumped-up claim that Obama had dissed business owners on the campaign trail?

Excuse me, but was anyone stopping the press from covering substantive issues prior to the Ryan pick? The whole premise that up until Saturday the 2012 presidential campaign had been void of substance and it's only the arrival of Ryan n that will rescue the race from triviality is absurd.

Also left out of the media's substance-has-arrived claim is the indisputable fact that the Republican candidate for president has for months steadfastly refused to release any kind of substantive policy plans.

From Politico [emphasis added]:

Vague, general or downright evasive policy prescriptions on some of the most important issues facing the country are becoming the rule for Romney.


Romney is remarkably candid, almost as though he's reading the stage directions, about why he won't offer up details: he thinks it will undermine his chances to win.

So if the press wants to say that vice presidential candidate Ryan might finally elevate the substance of the Republican campaign, that would be accurate. But to suggest Ryan will introduce the kind of substance that candidate Obama has avoided this campaign season is patently false.

Even Fox's Ed Henry conceded that while covering Obama on the trail last week the president was “talking about tax cuts” and talking about “health care.” Obama has been doing that for weeks and months, but the press pretends it's been unable to find “substantive” issues to cover this campaign?

Two other quick points that punch holes in the media's preferred Ryan narrative about substance. First, over the weekend, Ryan quickly morphed into an "attack dog" for Romney, which did little to elevate the race.

And his announcement speech was essentially devoid of substance, as NPR's Brian Lehrer noted on Saturday:

Secondly, the Romney campaign made it clear to reporters that the presumptive nominee is not going to adopt Ryan's budget blueprint as the centerpiece of the GOP campaign. So if Ryan's ballyhooed budget isn't going to be touted, how's he going to magically elevate the entire campaign with more substance?   

Romney aides certainly embrace the claim that Ryan is a man of deep substance and will transform the presidential campaign into a serious pursuit. There's no reason why the press should be pushing that kind of spin as fact.