Unfair and off balance: Panic spreads even to the media class

Wesley Pruden

There’s not a dry mattress, pair of skivvies or delicate lace panty anywhere out there. The president is chasing an imaginary bird, the pollsters are choking back panic (“has our methodology been wrong?”) and the media glitteries are even more hysterical than usual (“how can anyone as wonderful as us be so wrong?”).

Democratic disarray lies all about. Change and decay in all around they see.

Chris Matthews

Quelling panic in the ranks is currently Job 1 for the Obama campaign. David Plouffe, a senior adviser to Barack Obama, professes not to fret about “the fundamentals,” and says the panic in the ranks is nothing more than an outbreak of “bed-wetters.”

From the cries and squeals in certain precincts, it’s clear to just about everybody that President Obama’s slam dunk in the debate was only the modest clatter of a rim shot. It’s dawning on Democrats and their faithful media sages, so gleeful only yesterday, that it’s possible their man might soon have plenty of time to work on his putts and hoops.

Mitt Romney’s surge, fueled by that slam dunk that didn’t go awry, has pushed ahead of the president in the public-opinion polls for the first time. The latest polls show him closing the gender gap and running far ahead among the independents who the wise men say are the key to victory. It’s a remarkable turnabout. It might not last, but the quick and the nearly dead have traded places, with a little over three weeks to go.

The new polls that take fully into account the dribble and bounce from the first debate are what has so rattled the professionals who are paid not to rattle. Gallup’s first snapshot of “likely voters,” separated from the merely registered voters and those who might or might not take the trouble to go to vote, put Mr. Romney ahead by 2 points, 49 percent to 47 percent. That’s well within the margin of error, and any pollster will tell you that such a result is “statistically insignificant.” But Gallup says it illustrates “the competitive nature of the election.” That’s Ph.D talk for “Romney’s got the momentum.” (It’s what George Bush the Elder calls “the big mo’.”)

A wise Republican knows to curb his enthusiasm. What the fickle finger of fate can give, the fickle finger of fate can take away. “When we were being questioned [a fortnight ago] about the state of the race,” Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney spokesman, told reporters this week, “our advice was to simply caution everybody to be patient; there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in this campaign, but it’s going to be tight right until the end. We believe that to be the case, and I believe the president and his campaign share that view.”

Nevertheless, the market for stories about disarray in the Romney camp has dried up. The media glitteries are getting a lesson in the risks and dangers of forgetting who they’re supposed to be. Many of them have become aspiring spokesmen for the messiah, eager to read dissenting glitteries out of the cult.

A day or so after Andrew Sullivan, one of the most widely read Internet bloggers, wrote that Mitt Romney “is kicking the president’s [hind quarters],” he felt the need to explain that, on second thought, his first thought is inoperative. Everyone on the left is still howling at Chris Matthews, who went berserk on the air after the first debate. The president still hasn’t replied to Chris’ offer to teach him how to debate. Who knows what clubhouse ignominy awaits Gail Collins of the New York Times, who wrote this week that “when Democrats run into each other in elevators they exchange glances and sigh. Or make little whimpering sounds.” (She’s counting on Joe Biden to make it all better.)

The media glitteries, no longer satisfied to be mere journalists, reckon themselves a mighty army marching as to war, with the banner of the messiah of Chicago going on before. They feel no shame for abandoning duty. There’s no one any longer available to enforce the discipline of a serious newsroom.

When Abe Rosenthal, the late executive editor of the New York Times, once decreed that reporters, columnists and editors could not march in partisan causes no matter how worthy, one of his reporters demanded to know why. Didn’t she have First Amendment rights, too?

“Of course you do,” Abe replied. “You can [have sex with] an elephant, if that’s your taste. But if you do, you can’t cover the circus.”

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.