Brendan Nyhan had a good post yesterday about Mitt Romney and the press, but I especially recommend Paul Waldman's follow-up, for two reasons. First, Waldman is very good on the whole question of authenticity, and whether it matters or not. Second, Waldman is right -- the problematic press story about Gore in 2000 wasn't so much the "authenticity" question, but the idea that Gore was a habitual liar (the parallel story about George W. Bush was that he was stupid). What was especially annoying to me about the Gore thing is that it was really entirely based on nothing, unlike, say, the stories told about Bill Clinton in 1992 (undisciplined, ambitious) and John Kerry in 2004 (inconsistent -- that one was exaggerated, but not totally phony). Why annoying to me? Because I've never like Al Gore very much, so I didn't like having to defend him again the charge (I never minded defending Bush against the charge of stupidity, because I had a good counter-story ready. Didn't have one of those for Gore).
My finding things annoying aside, the big takeaway from this isn't whether or not the press gets these things "wrong" -- that is, it's not about whether or not Mitt Romney is authentic. The point is that once they adopt that frame, anything that happens is interpreted through it -- so if Al Gore in 2000 said something factually incorrect it was always about Gore as a liar, whereas when Bush in 2000 said something factually incorrect, it was about Bush being too stupid to know the difference. Part of interpreting the press -- that is, part of following campaigns and politicians intelligently, since we all do it through the press -- involves identifying these sorts of things, realizing when they drive coverage, and discounting appropriately in response.