Media narratives: Romney "flip-flops" but Obama "evolves"

Why have Obama and Romney’s “evolutions” been covered so differently? As Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek noted on Twitter, the difference between the candidates is far less clear than the media coverage would suggest. In both cases, electoral incentives are the primary factor shaping the positions that candidates publicly profess. When those incentives change, so do their positions…

The difference in their circumstances—and Romney’s lack of skill at glossing over his changed views—help explain the disparity in media coverage. The underlying problem, though, is the media’s authenticity fetish. Reporters should of course fact-check false and misleading claims from political figures and pressure candidates and their surrogates to be truthful. Journalists have an important role to play in pushing back when candidates dissemble about their opponents or their policy proposals. But in a system in which politicians must adapt their own views to a shifting electorate, the media’s focus on discovering the “real” person behind the candidate’s public statements frequently produces pathological coverage. The straight-talking politician who always says what he thinks and never changes his mind for political reasons is a fiction. In a democracy like ours, true honesty is the price of representation.