Barack Obama’s recent global tour may have been a media sensation abroad, but back home it was a punch line. “There was a huge reception for Barack Obama in the Middle East this past weekend,” quipped Jay Leno. “People were screaming, chasing him, hanging on his every word — and that was just the U.S. press corps.”
The line hit home. With the presidential election still months away, much of the media establishment has cast its lot with the junior senator from Illinois. This was already the case during the Democratic primaries, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Terry McAuliffe, grumbled that 90 percent of the media were “in the tank” for Obama. This was not solely campaign spin. Saturday Night Live found the charge compelling enough to air a sketch mocking news anchors and their undisguised affection for Clinton’s rival.
Media infatuation with Obama has only grown since he locked up his party’s nomination in early June. On magazine covers, newspaper pages and television screens, the storyline is all too clear: It’s all Obama, all the time.
Among the more disturbing features of this adulation is its embarrassing effect on supposedly hard-nosed journalists. MSNBC News’ Lee Cowan aptly diagnosed the symptoms of Obamamania when he observed that “it’s almost hard to remain objective because it’s infectious. It’s almost not cool if you haven’t seen him in person.” One need only consider the sad case of Chris Matthews, who has gushed that Obama is “sort of a gift from the world to us in so many ways.” Hardball this is not.
With the media’s biases so starkly exposed, it’s little wonder that Americans have lost faith in their fourth estate’s ability to cover the presidential race fairly. A recent Rasmussen found that 49 percent of respondents believed reporters would favor Obama in their coverage this fall. Just 14 percent expected the media to back John McCain.
Such suspicions are warranted. For instance, a Project For Excellence In Journalism survey showed that Obama was a main figure in 78 per cent of newspaper, radio and television election reports in the six weeks since early June. By contrast, only 21 percent of reports focused on McCain. The Tyndall Report, which monitors the nightly newscasts of the three major American television networks, reported a similar bias. It found that CBS, NBC and ABC have expended 114 broadcasting minutes covering Obama since Hilary Clinton’s June withdrawal from the primaries, and only 48 minutes to McCain. On the media’s radar, the former Vietnam P.O.W. is M.I.A.
A stunning example of journalistic favoritism-in-action was furnished by the New York Times. Last week, the paper published an op-ed by Obama detailing his plan for Iraq. One might think that McCain would be similarly entitled to this highly desirable piece of media real-estate. Yet, when McCain submitted a rebuttal piece, criticizing Obama’s timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, the paper refused to publish it. A Times editor claimed that McCain’s submission did not have “enough new information,” and encouraged the senator to resubmit a new version. As critics noted, this was the kind of brush-off typically reserved for unwanted freelancers, not would-be presidents. (Interestingly, while the Times decreed McCain’s article unfit to print, a European paper, the Berliner Tagesspiegel published it this week.)
Though doubtless a sincere reflection of the mainstream media’s generally left-leaning politics, the Obama love affair may backfire. According to a recent RealClearPolitics poll, McCain was six points back of his Democratic rival at the start of July, at 48 percent to 42. But at the beginning of this week, he was only a point back, at 42 to 41. Among the main reasons given by respondents for their flagging enthusiasm was the media’s obvious preference for Obama; many found it unfair.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the media’s Obama obsession is the concomitant suspension of all critical faculties. Lost in the admiring chorus chronicling Obama’s tour of Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe, for instance, was any serious scrutiny of his foreign-policy inexperience. Not only does this trivialize the presidential race, promoting personality over issues and policy, but it ill-serves the public, which, unlike its media, is more than willing to evaluate its presidential aspirants critically. Starry-eyed journalists’ fascination with Obama would ultimately be quite funny – if the consequences for the voters – and the nation – were not so serious.