That brings us closer to the core question: What standard should journalists use when deciding which presidential candidates to take seriously? Forget shame. What's required is a press corps that rethinks its role in the nomination process. The dirty little secret of political journalism is that right now a lot of broadcasters, writers, and editors are just thoughtlessly going along with the herd. I submit that a little more thoughtfulness would result in a lot better coverage.
Here are some of the problems with the status quo. 1) Name recognition doesn't correlate with good leadership skills, but it affords a tremendous advantage in the nominating process. 2) There is an incentive for some people to launch fake bids for the presidency because the attention it garners adds to their celebrity, and ours is a society where that is as much a commodity as anything. 3) Hot button issues that bear little on our future attract far more attention than hugely important issues certain to impact America for decades to come. 4) Early polls of relatively uninformed voters play an out-sized roll in shaping who is deemed to be a viable candidate -- and once those judgments are made, they are prone to become self-fulfilling prophecies, as all save known pols are denied the media attention necessary to succeed.
Simple fixes can't remedy all of these pathologies. Even so, the measures I am about to suggest would improve the way we select presidents.
A) Journalists should reconsider their role. Especially early in primary season, it is much more important for the press to inform the public about its options than to obsess endlessly about front-runners. Strange as it sounds, the political press could learn from the folks writing in the travel and food sections. What's that? You've stumbled onto a relatively unknown, under-appreciated find that everyone would love if only they knew about it? Besides, there's nothing as pointless as horse race predictions issued many months before elections.
B) Especially early on, it would be nice if journalists gave weight to viability metrics other than name recognition, fund-raising capacity, and public opinion polls (all of which are often closely related). Corporations always leave open the possibility that the product of the future is something presently unknown to the masses. What if The New York Times, The Huffington Post and National Review all convened small focus groups open only to relatively unknown candidates? Small gatherings of informed voters could evaluate candidates up close, weighing their relevant experience and hearing their takes on the issues in intense sessions that might reveal individuals worthy of wider attention.
"The more I have observed American politics, the more I am aware that long shots do come true here," Andrew Sullivan writes. "And I should say that despite Trump's manifest unsuitability for high office, I prefer a system where a total outsider has a chance to break in from time to time rather than the more closed parliamentary systems of Europe." But it would be nice if our long-shot outsiders occasionally came to our attention by some method other than the press elevating whatever really rich C-list celebrity declared himself interested in the White House.