Why the media is rooting for Newt

A bias that favors sensationalism is a bias that by definition favors Gingrich, who is sensational in every sense of the word. The kind way of describing this is to say that Newt is recognizably human: He is, as BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith puts it, “a flawed, interesting man with a story that includes success and failure.” A more colorful way is offered by the National Review’s Jim Geraghty: “He’s Rex Ryan, with an enormous ‘Can you believe what this guy said?’ factor in every appearance.” Or, perhaps even more apt, Gingrich is a candidate forever on the verge of spontaneous human combustion—and what reporter in his right mind would want to drive a guy like that out of the race any sooner than necessary?…

The suspicion of Romney is even deeper than that, however. Ever since his run in 2008, when his contortions on various issues earned him his reputation as an inveterate flip-flopper, the members of the ­media—and his rivals, then and ­today—have regarded him as a phony, his candidacy based on, as Smith puts it, “some ­really brittle half-truths about his consistency.” But now there is a creeping sense that he may be something worse; that on a range of issues, notably his finances, Romney is making claims that may be less than fully truthful. This perception may or may not be fair, but trust me, it is ­growing—and problematic. Much as the press enjoys poking at phoniness, it absolutely relishes demolishing a liar.

What all of this means for Gingrich is that, brutal as a loss in Florida would be to his prospects, the press may help keep him on life support into the spring. What it means for the general election, though, is somewhat less clear. No person with eyes in his head in 2008 could have failed to see the way that soft coverage helped to propel Obama first to the Democratic nomination and then into the White House. But in the course of the past three years, reporters, as is their wont, have arrived at a more measured (and even jaundiced) view of him. Let’s hope that means that in this fall’s horse race, both ponies get ridden equally hard.