We have all complained about the pro-Obama tilt in this election cycle. News media consistently gave John McCain much harsher treatment while refusing to perform the same kind of investigative journalism on Barack Obama, whose thin track record and Chicago Machine background should have given reporters enough red flags for a bullfighting league. Instead, the media gave Obama the elevator and McCain the shaft.
The [Washington] Post provided a lot of good campaign coverage, but readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts.
My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 last year on issues, voters, fundraising, the candidates’ backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants. We also have looked at photos and Page 1 stories since Obama captured the nomination June 4. Numbers don’t tell you everything, but they give you a sense of The Post’s priorities.
The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories. The Post was deficient in stories that reported more than the two candidates trading jabs; readers needed articles, going back to the primaries, comparing their positions with outside experts’ views. There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues.
Ombud Deborah Howell’s column goes on to justify or at least rationalize the imbalance:
Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Post reporters, photographers and editors — like most of the national news media — found the candidacy of Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, more newsworthy and historic. Journalists love the new; McCain, 25 years older than Obama, was already well known and had more scars from his longer career in politics.
So that must mean they absolutely adored Sarah Palin and gave her the same benefit of the doubt, right? Er, no:
When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought The Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden. They are right; it was a serious omission.
The hell with Joe Biden. Howell never answers the real issue here — why did the Post, and the rest of the national media, go on the attack with Sarah Palin and not with Barack Obama? The two candidates had a similar amount of time in politics, and Palin had more executive experience than Obama. Obama ran for the top job, while Palin ran for VP. And yet the national media parachuted dozens of reporters into Wasilla and Juneau looking for dirt and scandal, coming up with a tanning bed in the governor’s mansion (which Palin bought herself) and the Troopergate story that turned out to be a nothingburger and was already known prior to her nomination.
Where were the Post reporters doing the same thing in Chicago? Why didn’t the Post want to look at the files of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, Barack Obama’s only executive experience prior to his run for the presidency? The media never bothered to make a hundredth of the effort on Obama that they did with Palin, and they had two years to do it.
That’s the issue Howell should have addressed in her column. We already know that the Post gave imbalanced coverage of Obama and McCain, as did most of the rest of the media. And now Howell gives the mea culpa in her first column after Election Day, when it’s far too late to do anything about it. Where was Howell during the last three months? Why wait until the election is over to speak up? That’s an answer in itself.