July 22, 2008

Obama v. McCain in the Media

Posted in Media, Political Punditry tagged at 1:30 pm by R

It’s not a big secret. Barack Obama is a media darling. The man has been in US Weekly in his bathing suit for crying out loud! He’s interesting, refreshing and a relatively new face on the scene. But is this good for the voters? Is this good for the election?

Media law requires that political candidates get “fair time,” which is a little fuzzy in language, but basically amounts to roughly equal coverage for each.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism noted in a recent study that of the more than 300 stories on the presumptive presidential candidates between the weeks of June 9 and July 13, Obama played an “important roll” in more than two-thirds of that coverage.

MSNBC and the Associated Press dove a little deeper and talked to some of the newsroom execs who are making the call about coverage.

“We have already been in discussions with the McCain campaign to try to afford them the same or a similar opportunity,” Banner said. “We have gone to great lengths to be fair and provide equal time to both campaigns.”

— Jon Banner, Executive Producer of World News Tonight (ABC)

I believe it. They have to at least make the effort to cover the campaigns fairly. And there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. There’s plenty of interviews that get turned down or that don’t pan out because of travel or the campaign sends a different spokesperson, etc.

But the numbers do tell a different story (courtesy of an article on MSNBC. Read it here.):

Obama —

  • Time, 2006, Cover — second bestselling issue
  • Men’s Vogue, Cover — outsold every issue except the Men’s Vogue Debut
  • Newsweek, six covers in 2008
  • Rolling Stone

McCain —

  • Two Newsweek Covers
  • Several Shared Covers with Obama…

Dee Dee Meyers posted an eloquent blog addressing this issue as well. An important point she makes about the press and it’s coverage of Obama is this:

There are lot of “explanations” for the lopsided coverage: Obama is new and what’s new is “news.” As the first African-American to run a serious race, let alone win a major party’s nomination, Obama is running an historic campaign. Obama has created a “movement,” and Americans are simply more interested in him than in his opponents. Obama is running a smarter campaign, and he knows how to court media attention. It’s also true that intense media coverage is a double- edged sword: the attention is great when things are going well, but it can doom a candidate if and when things start to go badly. And so far, Obama has had way more good days than bad days. Each of those rationales is largely true—and somewhat less than satisfying.

Satisfying or not, the media does seem to be giving its audiences what they want. I think the Obama coverage is, at least in part, a sign of the times. The nation is interested in this already historic figure who is a new comer to the political market place, who brings a fresh attitude and charismatic delivery to every appearance.

Obama should be ware not to go the way of “Beniffer” and be over exposed to the point of disinterest and dislike. He is a little like a celebrity having embraced some of the news outlets like gossip magazines and satirical news shows. And while this has amplified his public figure, it’s a fine line.

John McCain may have big news this week with the potential announcement of a VP. That kind of news will undoubtedly tilt the scales of coverage.

Whatever the coverage is, it is SO critical that we read and watch and comment and converse about all of it. For 18-30-ish voters, this is an important election. Not just because it’s an opportunity to affect change, but because it’s a chance to tell everyone who called our generation apathetic voters to shove it.

Long story longer, media is power. That’s why I’ve got a job. And with respect to this election year the media’s power is a factor. Watch closely, it’s your civic duty.




  1. Matt said,


    Very nicely said. But you see, that’s the problem. After observing the history of the media in my lifetime and seeing a major shift since the Vietnam War, nice doesn’t begin to address what has occurred. Like the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot, a major tenet of what keeps our system from abject corruption has gone the way of the handbasket. It is beyond blatant at this juncture on both sides. You might say this keeps the scales somewhat balanced. It doesn’t. The issue by its very nature belies that two wrongs make a right. Wrong.

    Whether you are Republican, Democrat or even a wacky fringe group, Americans should be very disturbed. Objective reporting is a thing of the past. That is a sad, but perhaps most of all, frightening. In a presidential election (or ANY election) propping up and covering for one candidate over another is, simply put, the acme of corruption. In an already dumb-downed society, you will eventually get a chance to fiddle while Rome burns. Personally, I have no interest in learning the fiddle. So don’t be swayed by your political leanings, demand the whole truth when you search for answers. You won’t always like what you hear, but isn’t that what a truly thinking person would do? Don’t let the pathetic media think for you, that’s just lazy. Remember what a notorious figure of history said, “If you tell a lie enough times, the masses will eventually believe it”. We know what the result of that was.

  2. […] posting about Obama V. McCain in the Media I got to thinking about the other ways media has an impact on our impression of candidates. […]

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