Where Does Press Set Bar for Bachmann?

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote a rather apoplectic column about presidential candidate Michele Bachmann this week, lamenting the fact that other GOP candidates aren’t calling her out for being completely ill-prepared for the job:

Bachmann does not deserve to be in the presidential race. Legislatively, she has done little, she knows next to nothing and what she thinks she knows is wrong.

He also called her “an ignoramus” and “a bigot when it comes to gays.”

Straight news coverage obviously isn’t going to put things like that. But what’s remarkable is how reporters seem to give Bachmann credit for being sort of, kind of, well-informed–at least relative to another political figure.

Here’s Time magazine’s recent take:

It is easy to dismiss Bachmann as a shorter Sarah Palin with a Minnesota accent. But there are important differences. Whereas Palin can stumble over simple questions, Bachmann is far surer on her feet. When Fox News host Chris Wallace recently recounted some of Bachmann’s most outrageous statements and asked point-blank whether she is a “flake,” the congresswoman didn’t blink and delivered a firm recitation of her credentials. During a 2010 interview on MSNBC‘s Hardball, Bachmann stuck so resolutely to her talking points that the exasperated host, Chris Matthews, asked whether she was “hypnotized.” She smiled and repeated them again.

“They’ll throw nothing but heat at her, and she stays in the batter’s box and doesn’t flinch,” marvels an adviser to a rival Republican candidate. Her fans say that’s because Bachmann, who has two law degrees, offers more substance than Palin and can speak intelligently–and without Palin’s mangled syntax–about policy issues. “She’s smart. She’s well informed,” says Ralph Reed. It’s true that Bachmann has a scant House record and a penchant for factual misstatements, including her bizarre claim that NATO air strikes killed up to 30,000 Libyans. But few other politicians so effectively combine policy, ideology–and pure star power.

Talk about exasperating.

The ability to recite talking points instead of answering questions can be called a lot of things– being “sure on your feet” isn’t one of them.

Bachmann has a “penchant for factual misstatements”–one example is given, sandwiched between tributes to her intelligence. Compare that to this assessment from early this year, courtesy of a PolitiFact editor:

“We have checked her 13 times, and [found] seven of her claims to be false and six have been found to be ridiculously false,” PolitiFact editor Bill Adair told Minnesota Public Radio.

He added that no other politician had been factchecked as often as Bachmann without saying something that was found to be true.

“I don’t know anyone else that we have checked more than a couple times that has never earned anything above a false,” Adair said. “She is unusual in that regard that she has never gotten a rating higher than false.”

That’s pretty astounding–and doesn’t really come through in the coverage of her campaign.

On top of all of this, of course, is the notion–rampant in the coverage of her campaign–that Bachmann should be compared to Sarah Palin. There’s something strange–and deeply sexist–about this. But without a doubt, being compared to the most famously inarticulate national political figure of our era does a tremendous favor to Bachmann.

Richard Cohen is wondering when other Republican presidential candidate will criticize her record; the same question should be asked of the press corps.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.