Thursday, July 24, 2008

Media Bias, McCain and Obama

In an interview that takes the term "softball" to a whole new level... Sean Hannity throws a series of marshmallows at McCain.
HANNITY: Even if Scott Rasmussen has a poll, 49 percent of Americans think the media is trying to help Barack Obama win. Only 14 percent think they're trying to help you win.

MCCAIN: The American people are very wise.
Poor John - he looks like he's about to faint from the medial pressure. Get the poor man something to drink - perhaps some coffee. Er, thanks, Ron Fournier and Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press, and thanks for also giving him donuts - let's get his blood sugar back up. But we're supposed to be buying into the notion that the media is not (or is it "no longer") John McCain's "base".

What's really going on with the media? Look at David Broder's latest:
It made no sense when Barack Obama left the country on his nine-day overseas tour for some of my fellow columnists to describe it as a high-risk venture.

* * *

So where was the risk? It existed mainly in the minds of some journalists and, perhaps, in the musings of Obama staffers who wanted to hype the journey.

Acknowledging all that, it is still the case that Obama is pulling off this trip in great style and thereby has enhanced his Oval Office credentials.
In other words, McCain goaded Obama into taking an international voyage that he would otherwise have forgone in the interest of campaigning right here in the United States, and the media's perspective that the trip could be a horrible mistake is crashing head-on with the fact that Obama has pulled off the voyage in grand style, managing to look informed, engaged, and (worst of all) Presidential.

Meanwhile, how has the press been treating McCain? Very well. They've given scant attention to a series of blunders and gaffes that would have triggered excoriating attacks on Obama. The stack is now so high that we may be reaching a tipping point, even on the network that edited a McCain interview to replace a bungled answer with an attack on Obama - and no, I don't buy the excuse that the wrong answer was inserted after the question because the editor felt time-pressured.

I think a lot of the criticism of McCain (or even Obama) for gaffes and misstatements, or ill-advised jokes or off-hand comments, is unfair. They're under what approaches 24 hour surveillance. They're working hours that (even with McCain's taking some time off on weekends) would be grueling for much younger men. It's pretty astonishing to me that they don't make more blunders under the circumstances. And by that measure, as long as it's a two-way street, I think it's reasonable for the media to focus on the major issues instead of blowing minor misstatements out of proportion.

Of course, that's not actually what the media's doing. News coverage of the campaign seems to be primarily focused on the campaign itself - "Is that campaign ad 'fair'?" "Which candidate is the media darling?" "What did McCain say about Obama's campaign today?" - it's effectively substance-free. If Obama had not gone to Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than hearing about those nations we would probably be hearing another story about the (supposed) diminishing importance of those wars to U.S. voters (in the face of a lack of media coverage). The last thing the public needs is a network that often reduces itself to a 24-hour free advertisement for the Republican party inviting McCain, in a kid gloves interview, to accuse the media of treating him unfairly. But that's what we're given.

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