We all know media insiders thrive on gossip and style over substance and ideas–look at the way cable news has inhaled the Tiger Woods and White House gatecrashers "stories" over the past couple of weeks.  Roll Call is doing its bit to make sure political coverage is more like People Magazine  than serious journalism.  An article on Wednesday asked whether Sen. John Thune (R-SD) is "presidential timber".  You might think the answer to that question would hinge on Sen. Thune’s positions on important issues–or that the answer might require at least mentioning one of Sen. Thune’s positions on any issue.  No, the article studiously avoids digging into the dirty well of substance.  You won’t find discussion of any position Sen. Thune takes on any issue in the article, which suggests that he is "increasingly being viewed as the Capitol’s most likely White House contender."  Readers are told, twice, that Sen. Thune is "telegenic".   Apart from that, the piece focuses on Sen. Thune’s fundraising abilities (he has "an impressive rolodex of donors") and his role in the Republican leadership.

I understand that Roll Call is an inside baseball type of publication--it describes its mission as "deliver[ing] superior coverage of the people, politics, process, and policy on Capitol Hill."  But I don’t think that excuses Roll Call from covering substance in any way when it talks up a possible presidential contender.  Also, Roll Call is not the only source to think John Thune’s looks recommend him for higher office–David Brooks similarly harped on Thune’s good looks when he hyped him as a possible presidential candidate.  Brooks’s piece from last month got right to the good stuff: "the first thing everybody knows about Thune is that he’s tall…and handsome."  Later in his piece, Brooks explained why substance takes a back seat when it comes to Thune, saying that "his positions on the issues are unremarkable."

Yep, he’s just good people that Sen. Thune–clean cut, bright eyed, the kind of wholesome, all-American type you’d find "in a Thornton Wilder play" (as Brooks suggests).  I guess that’s fair–if Thornton Wilder characters were members of shadowy fundamentalist power centers.  You see, the wholesome, telegenic Sen. Thune is connected to the C Street Family, according to Jeff Sharlet.  It’s a point that seems to be going unnoticed, even by South Dakota media.

So, it’s great to know that Sen. Thune is good looking, and that may qualify him to be president, but perhaps the next time someone writes a piece on hottie Sen. Thune, they can also look into his connection to C Street, a group whose positions on the issues are far from "unremarkable".

Chris Edelson

Chris Edelson

Chris is a lawyer and professor at American University who writes frequently about current political and media issues. His writing has also been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metroland (Albany, NY), and at commondreams.org