How the media fall in and out of love with candidates

How the media fall in and out of love with candidates
© Greg Nash

Reporting on presidential candidates can be a lot like high school romance: It’s all about crushes and rejections, falling hard — only to fall quickly out of love.

After New Hampshire, journalists and pundits are desperately scanning the cafeteria for their next soul mate. But now that voters are actually part of the equation, the media’s search for love will need to evolve.

For reporters, those months before voting are like freshman year: Everything is based on looks. Most of the contest takes place through televised town halls and debates, emphasizing the same superficial qualities that mesmerized you when you were 14 years old.

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Like any teen-ager trying to figure out how to become more mature, this is a good time to look back at some of the media crushes that brought us to this point.

Almost from the first day of school, there was South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigeig. Smart and sharp, he even looked brave in front of that Fox News town hall audience. Some of us called him our “folksiest heartland hope,” because he seemed like the kind of person your parents would vote for. But soon, he got conceited, a little ahead of himself — maybe not as mature as we thought.

That’s when we noticed Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's tax bombshell | More election drama in Pennsylvania | Trump makes up ground in new polls New Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Democrats blast Trump after report reveals he avoided income taxes for 10 years: 'Disgusting' MORE (D-Mass.) Sure, we’d seen her at the brainiacs’ table before. We dismissed her as, well, too smart — “the most professorial candidate ever.” But then she turned up the energy — she stopped talking about her plans and started telling us about her tough childhood in Oklahoma. (No one ever really bought the Native American thing, though.) When she took selfies with everybody after class, we all thought she was cool.

We’ll admit it now: we were hooked on cool. Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris says she hasn't 'made a plan one way or another' on meeting Supreme Court nominee Compromise, yes — but how? A pre-debate suggestion Biden must clarify his stance on energy for swing voters MORE (D-Calif.) got our attention. We called her “riveting,” and loved it when she took on “boringJoe BidenJoe BidenTop House Republican calls for probe of source of NYT Trump tax documents Judge's ruling creates fresh hurdle for Trump's TikTok ban Harris says she hasn't 'made a plan one way or another' on meeting Supreme Court nominee MORE in debate club. Nobody had a crush on him. He used the word “malarkey,” just like our Dad.

For a minute, Beto O’Rourke seemed cool, too. He looked like Robert Kennedy and — hey, we were young — we thought that meant he was as talented as Robert Kennedy. Turned out he was kind of a space cadet. We “fell out of love.”

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Disappointed, we turned to Julian CastroJulian CastroSanders says Democrats should have given more speaking time to progressives Castro says DNC should have put more Latino speakers on stage from beginning Jill Biden defends husband's cognitive ability from Trump attacks: 'It's ridiculous' MORE. Maybe we had been “paying attention to the wrong Texan.” But he was kind of mean to Beto in that social studies debate over immigration and open borders. We knew we could do better.

Then something totally terrible happened: competition. For months, we got all the attention from every candidate. But then, at the beginning of spring semester, the voters started speaking up. 

Everyone was really interested in what these voters had to say — but those people were saying the strangest things. It was as if the voters fell for everyone we rejected. Hard. And on purpose.

Look, we always liked Bernie — some of us do this great imitation of him, not to his face, that would be gross — but we just couldn’t get close to him. Buttigeig never really left our hearts and (we’re just going to say it out loud) we would truly consider taking him back.

Worst of all, though, is Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Minn). Right from start, we knew she was a mean girl. We heard some of the sophomores talking about how she kept yelling for a fork and ate her salad with a comb. All the chatter was about “the anger of Amy Klobuchar;” and we decided we didn’t need to know anything more. That could’ve been a mistake on our part.

Now, we feel kind of rejected. Which hurts, because we’re usually the ones who do the rejecting.

Maybe we should go over and talk to Mike Bloomberg. We always stayed away from him, that rich kid, off by himself, aloof from everybody else. But he might be all we have left.

At least until we fall in love again. This time, for real.

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for “Dateline NBC,” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.