Monday, July 28, 2008

Is Media Favoring or Following Obama?

Last Monday, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain touched down in Manchester, New Hampshire for a typical campaign stop.

Waiting for him on the tarmac...a single print reporter with a photographer in tow. Senator McCain probably thought he landed at the wrong airport or that a PR-staffer left a few dozen people off of a fax list.

One of two presumptive Presidential nominees comes to your state, and only one reporter shows up? That's the equivalent of the Boston Red Sox playing the New York Yankees in front of an elementary school class.

Meanwhile, when Barack Obama arrived in Iraq that same week, the reception was quite different. The Democratic Presidential candidate was enveloped by reporters with flashbulbs popping constantly. News networks from across not only the U.S. but the world made the trek to track the Senator. Each step was satellite-beamed back to viewers and represented much more of a media circus than McCain's understated visit to Iraq this March.

Grant you, this is an extreme example. The Granite State isn't nearly as important to the current world climate as Baghdad. But it shows just how far down John McCain has slipped on the media radar.

And McCain and his staff have not been blind to this ongoing trend. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor quoted a Rasmussen Report which showed that a near majority of likely voters perceive a "pro-Obama" bias within media coverage.

While McCain is the latest victim of the media's desire to chase the Obama campaign, this shouldn't be news to those tuned to politics. Senator Clinton made several similar complaints during her bitter battle for the Democratic nomination. When Hillary wasn't grabbing a mic to gripe about the "pro-Obama" media, her husband was more than willing to step in.

Clinton learned that blaming the media won't help your cause and McCain should mind that message. A candidate can only go after what they perceive (albeit the truth or not) as media bias through...the media. And the egos in the journalism world are large and vindictive.

The mentality is simple: "Call me biased and I'll show you just how biased I can be." This has never been more true than it is today due to the overwhelming popularity of commentary as opposed to reporting.

By utilizing this "Woe Are We" strategy, McCain's staff hopes to get a few helping hands via kinder columns or at least more exposure. But they got an even greater lift from CBS the night after he landed in New Hampshire.

During an interview with Katie Couric on CBS Evening News last Tuesday night, network editors mistakenly cut a potentially controversial answer by McCain, completely removing it from the aired footage. While that news only received major run on programs such as Countdown with Keith Olbermann, McCain's campaign continues to claim their candidate is a victim of media bias.

And, according to NBC's Brian Williams, the McCain campaign has good reason to raise their voice. In an article in last Friday's edition of the famous London broadsheet the Telegraph, reporter Lucy Cockcroft details an interview Williams did with a British TV reporter. In that interview, Williams said that Obama is receiving more airtime than McCain because of the "historical significance of his campaign." Cockcroft also mentions McCain's "Obama Love" movie about that bias claim, which admittedly is revealing and quite funny.

Williams goes on to call McCain's griping "sour grapes" and says Obama is "using the media better." And therein lies an important issue and perhaps the great secret behind the mass media.

The media can be used and abused...with ease.

Candidates do use the media. Just as much, if not more than, the media uses them. The use of the word 'use' is also important. Not 'utilize' or 'access,' but 'use.' The connotative meaning is evident and essential.

When you're seemingly an underdog like McCain is currently, you use the media as a platform for your complaints. When you're ahead of the game, you use the media by inviting them into every single aspect of your campaign. Before Obama even landed in Iraq, his staff had already coordinated 'exclusive' sit-down interviews with each of the major networks' evening news hosts.

As McCain complains his way through the end of July, the perceived underdog is merely six percentage points behind Obama in the latest general election poll. What's also intriguing is that while McCain "dropped" two points from last Thursday, the percentage of unsure voters continues to climb. McCain's strategy may in fact be bringing voters onto the fence, which could serve to help him in November. Or, it could destroy his chances.

Still, the quintessential question remains: "Are reporters and media networks favoring or following the Obama campaign?"

They certainly are following it. According to a report from The Project for Excellence in Journalism on July 20th, Obama has had a "significant presence" in 83% of the coverage during the general election campaign. McCain checked in at 52%. Obama's trip to Iraq represented nearly a quarter of all of the campaign coverage between July 14th and July 20th.

The Senator from Illinois has been dominating the news. But, wasn't it McCain who until recently was asking why Obama hadn't visited Iraq?

Be careful what you wish for.

As Christian Science Monitor reporter Linda Feldmann noted, that media spotlight burns brightest during both high and low points. If scandal arises in the Obama camp as it previously did after Reverend Wright's comments received significant airtime, he will see his image temporarily skewered. But, for the moment, Obama is king.

However, all of this increased media exposure does not lend to the fallacy that media members are favoring Obama. The commentators may disagree, but McCain will again take his turn in the spotlight, likely when he chooses a Vice Presidential running mate. His staff will attempt to time that decision to receive as much of the media hype as possible. It remains to be seen how well he will use that time, and how long he can hold the spotlight.

Perhaps Obama is riding the coattails of a long fight with Clinton, which led to a significant triumph and increased public interest. As Brian Williams said, Obama is "unique" while McCain has "run before."

Lest we forget, reporters are human. And these election campaigns are brutal. They wear on both the candidates and the media equally. And when a generally untested newcomer makes waves and takes center stage, curiosity and intrigue take over.

If you believe the media reflects public interest, then the latest election polls show that more citizens are interested in or favor Obama. Therefore, the media are shining their cameras towards the Democratic candidate.

If you believe the public interest reflects what media supply, then a clear bias is present.

In the election polls, McCain trails Obama by six points. But, when it comes to media coverage, McCain trails by 31 percent. But, is that disparity due to a significant and calculated liberal bias among the media? Or is it because Barack Obama has become a political force, much the way Bill Clinton was in 1992.

Common sense would say the latter. Obama has been able to garner nearly $300 million in campaign fundraising, while McCain checks in at $119 million. Obama's campaign needed those funds to hold off a much stronger opponent; but in this case those numbers don't lie. His personality and charisma have drawn more monetary and voter support than most critics would have imagined.

It's safe to say that Obama has galvanized many young voters and made a significant impact on the Democractic party. And because our nation's voting history tends to switch the favored political party every 4-8 years, Obama's rise merely follows a pattern.

It seems it is simply his turn. And his campaign staff has used the media extremely well.

Following? Absolutely.

Favoring? Not quite...


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Apologies for the Hiatus

Dear Friends,

It's been quite an unexpectedly busy summer as my Public Speaking course winds down this week. After that it's traveling to see my 3rd nephew after he enters into our world sometime around the middle of the month. When that all winds down, I'll truly get back to active blogging! Promise.

The goal is for a weekly post rooted in the study/omniscient-overlook of the ongoings in the mass media realm. There's quite a bit to talk about. From major cuts across the country to several J-schools retooling their curriculum for the Not-So-New Media wave, we've got a bit to cover. And...on occasion, I'll throw in a sports-related post or two.

My hypocrisy knows no bounds. For now, enjoy these two pics of our kids enjoying the summer. Isabelle is over 2 years and 4 months old now...Kenny is 9 months old and is a beast. They are fun to keep up with.

-Jeff a.k.a. "The Professor"