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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

I agree with Nate that the coverage has been Obamacentric but not necessarily always Obamaphilic, even as every category of partisan voter wildly disagrees with us on that latter count (even only 10% of Dem voters think the press is biased toward McCain, compared with 28% that think the press is biased toward Obama).

In a study released today, however, Pew’s nonpartisan Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that McCain’s Britney Spears-Paris Hilton week finally brought him even with Obama on the former count – the issue of Obamacentrism:

The spike in press attention to the McCain campaign came a week after Obama’s tour of the Middle East and Europe commandeered the headlines, accounting for half the election coverage for July 21-27. It also came a week after the media engaged in a spasm of introspection, amid a wave of accusations that the media was being unfair to the GOP standard bearer. The third biggest campaign storyline for July 21-27 was the issue of whether the press was biased toward and lavishing too much attention on Obama.

On Friday, I argued that the fact even Democratic voters by an 18-point margin (36 among Indies and 70 among Republicans) perceive the press to be Obamaphilic reflects disconnect between the countless partisan blogosphere writings about a pro-McCain bias and real-world public awareness. Whereas the blogosphere has successfully pushed a message into the public mainstream at other times (Talking Points Memo and the US Attorneys scandal springs to mind), I concluded this disconnect shows that thus far Democratic partisans have failed to sell their case and (provided they actually want to have that fight) need a new strategy to convince the public.

Bloggers and cable show “Democratic Guy/Gal” analysts are Malcolm Gladwell’s mavens, people who absorb vast minutiae of topical information and then connect others to the information. In this case, various specific examples of press protection of McCain are simply not sticking in the public mind. The mavens have failed to connect their gathered information to the public consciousness. To note that it simply isn’t working is an honest admission.

Yesterday, Chris Bowers criticized this conclusion, suggesting that the reason even Democrats believe that the press favors Obama (the topic of my original post) is that Obama put the kibosh on 527s in the name of running a cleaner, more message-controlled campaign. Presumably, more 527 ads would persuade voters to believe the press is favoring McCain, though I find this a dubious argument. 527 ads (say, from Vote Vets) would shine more light on McCain’s voting record, but wouldn’t obviously change minds that the press prefers Obama.

I should have made it more clear in my original post that I don’t think it should necessarily fall to bloggers to make sure the public knows the press often covers for McCain, though bloggers and Democratic cable-talkers naturally fill that role. The press should simply apply the same standards to both candidates – if it would get big play that CBS had edited an Obama answer importantly distorting his retelling of the surge timeline as an example of press bias, then it should cover the same story about CBS protecting McCain. Ads, 527s or otherwise, have a different purpose and should not be reduced to whining about unfairness.

One of the reasons this theme about the press and Obamaphilism is hard to change can be attributed to a self-inflicted intraparty wound begun during the primary. Hillary Clinton’s choice to push the Alan Keyes-like complaining about debate process and her trumpeting of the SNL caricature of the press openly coddling Obama cemented the theme. Pew agrees:

In some ways, the media’s soul searching over its own role, and the resulting spike upward in coverage of McCain, were perhaps predictable. This had happened before, back during the primaries between Obama and Hillary Clinton. The week of Feb. 25-March 2, after Clinton complained about a pro-Obama bias and cited a Saturday Night Live skit to make her point, the press spent considerable time examining the possibility it was being unfair. And it followed that the next week, Clinton generated more coverage than her Democratic rival, reversing a trend of several weeks when Obama had been the top newsmaker.

Now the question is whether the Obamacentrism of the coverage will return in subsequent weeks, and if so whether equal coverage volume will begin to change the polling numbers on perceptions of press bias. Stay tuned.

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