The Media and Barack Obama

Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Jim Wooten today asked the pertinent question, “Does the media prefer Barack Obama?”   Hillary Clinton clearly thinks so,” he writes, and continues:

Well, could I just point out that, in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time? And I don’t mind. You know, I’ll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious. And if anybody saw ‘Saturday Night Live,’ you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.” She was referring to a skit last weekend that had television journalists fawning over Obama.

“I just find it kind of curious,” Hillary continued, “that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues, but I’m happy to answer it. You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning. I didn’t have a public position on it because I was part of the administration. But when I started running for the Senate, I have been a critic.”

The suggestion that the media caters to Obama was advanced earlier in the day by campaign supporters. Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton adviser, said that “the press has largely applauded” Obama “every time” his campaign launches pesonal attacks on Hillary. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says the media has “relished” Hillary’s slide.

Wooten goes on to write that he keeps a TV going and gives it a look when something interesting pops up.  “Here lately, with the field down to two candidates, it appears far more balanced — that is, when I look up and the story is political, I’m as likely to see Hillary as Obama. ”  But that wasn’t the case earlier, when cable channels clearly preferred Obama, Wooten opines.

 He concludes by asking: “You report, you decide: Does the media prefer Obama?”

Well?  Media bias is hard to examine, since the examiner is inherently biased in the examining.  If you’re a Hillary supporter, a supporter of someone else, or simply skeptical of Obamamania, you might well assert that the media favors Obama.

But the perception of bias is common, maybe universal.  The most partisan supporters of the Palestinians are convinced the media are biased against their cause and let Israel get away with everything, while the equivalent on the Israel side are just as convinced  the bias runs the other way.  And they’re both criticizing the same coverage.

Given the above caveat, I do sense the media favor Obama.  From a journalistic standpoint, his personal story really is more interesting than those of the other candidates.  It’s a story to unjade us: The interracial marriage, the immigrant father, the son of the African immigrant who goes to Harvard, the relatives in Kenya following his every move.  The response to Obama, that “audacity of hope” euphoria, is genuine and reporters write about it, and thus inevitably fan it.

Still, my sense is that the media does favor Obama.  The media — by which, readers should understand, I mean mostly the political press — hasn’t liked Hillary from Day One, long before Obama appeared.

 It’s not just the-liberal-media-loves-the liberal, though.  The political press corps loves John McCain, at least since the Straight Talk Express days in 2000.  The media never liked Rudy Giuliani, g0ing back to his New York mayoral days, and he returned the favor.  Politically, Rudy is largely a bit further left than McCain.

Does the media’s playing favorites help the favored and hurt the disfavored?  It would be hard to support a “no” answer, but where’s the chicken and where’s the egg?  Do some public figures naturally rub reporters the right way and the wrong way (in a figurative sense)?

 In my case (I’m not a national political reporter, btw), I find it hard to warm up to Hillary and easy to warm up to Barack.  Full disclosure: I have a multiracial son, nieces and nephews.  I very much like John McCain on a personal level.  His personal story is also compelling.

But if the media’s bias is discernible, despite our constant pieties about “objectivity,” then aren’t we in trouble?  How much damage do we do to our credibility?  It’s too flip to say there’s not much damage left to be done; it’s immensely important to democracy that the press maintain its credibility and do its best to strive for objectivity.

During my brief stint as a college journalism professor, I tried to tell my students the reader shouldn’t be able to tell your political opinion or opinion of a person from your reporting.  I guess I didn’t teach that lesson — or any other lesson, I’m afraid — very well, but apparently neither did my colleagues.  Or is it the students who are the problem?

Back to Lesson One, anyone?

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2 Comments

Filed under National Politics, Presidential Campaign

2 responses to “The Media and Barack Obama

  1. Mary Ann van Hartesveldt

    I remember a study in the ’60’s asking what viewers of CBS news believed about beloved anchor Walter Cronkite’s beliefs about the Vietnam War. It was a landslide both ways. People who opped the war were 100% sure he favored their cause, and those who supported it were positive he shared their passion.

  2. I said to at least two people in the last two days, even before reading this blog, that we can’t, and probably shouldn’t, expect serious information or analysis from TV or most “news magazines” or newspapers–WSJ excepted, since it has a spectrum of perspectives and analysis in both its reporting and its opinion pages, and it is thorough. Those who want to get enough information to judge what *might* be the consequences of electing one candidate or another will have to read a variety of serious magazines and weigh the information gleaned and what can be concluded from it. I find it impossible to keep up, of course. But three magazines I think would qualify are The Economist, National Review, and Foreign Afffairs. I’d like to hear which magazines others would recommend.

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