When the media start backing away from supporting a candidate or a cause, read this as a sign that the media elite understand the public is seeing through the media's neutrality ruse.
MSNBC's coverage of Sen. Barack Obama's trip abroad streamed online shows one commentator waxing poetic about the senator's rave visuals on the trip. Another equally valid interpretation of the video of Obama shooting hoops with the troops is that it made him look less credible as a world leader, not more. A second commentator in the segment takes a deep breath, steps back and states that the Obama campaign has manipulated media coverage during this trip to an extent not witnessed in a long career of covering presidential campaigns. And that's saying something.
So is the fact the much-venerated New York Times op-ed page rejected an opinion piece submitted to the paper by Sen. John McCain late last week. The topic: the Iraq war. The McCain campaign released the rejection e-mail from Times op-ed Editor David Shipley, explaining the rejection as follows:
McCain's article would have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory "with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the senator's Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan."
While the Times has published at least seven op-ed pieces by McCain since 1996, and will reconsider the one he submitted last week if it is revised, it seems strange that the paper would seek such revisions from a presidential candidate. Whether the Times required similar changes of Obama, whose opinion piece the paper published earlier this month, is unknown.
What is known is Obama has graced the covers of six editions of Newsweek in the past year versus two for McCain. What is known is that Obama has been on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine twice in the past year (McCain on the cover of Rolling Stone? Unthinkable!) The Project for Excellence in Journalism's weekly summary of media coverage for the week ending July 20th reported the following:
"Last week, Obama was a significant presence in 83 percent of campaign stories studied, vs. McCain in 52 percent. (To be a significant presence in a story, 25 percent of the story must be about that person.)"
Are the media, overall, in love with Obama? You betcha. Is he getting a pass in terms of negative media critiques? Again, you betcha. Is that fair? Life is not fair, as we all know. But the only thing fair about the media's portrayal of the two presumptive party presidential nominees is that media bias may be starting to backfire.
In the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, 49 percent of voters told pollsters they believe most reporters will try to help the Democrat with their coverage, up from 44 percent a month earlier. Meanwhile, in the same time period, the Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking poll has McCain and Obama running neck and neck. A month ago Obama maintained a pretty consistent lead of five points, most of which has dwindled to nothing while perceptions of media bias rise.
Let me state for the record, I have no favorite in this race. I'm not a political partisan. I view the two candidates as well matched in one respect: They are each equally and fatally flawed, albeit in very different ways.
That said, it's troubling to stand by and watch major media outlets drool over one candidate while ignoring the other. The media love Obama, for the moment at least, because he's young, hip and of color. They are bored by McCain for the opposite reasons. One man once described himself to me as being, "boringly male and embarrassingly white." Toss in another pejorative (to wit, old) and you've summed up the media's vision of John McCain.Both candidates should be covered and reviewed in terms of their policies and on their ability to maintain consistent positions on issues while accurately recounting their records. Nothing more, nothing less. That is the type of coverage we should be viewing this campaign season, but it is not the coverage we are in fact receiving.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail [email protected].