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McCain camp cries foul

Media coverage favors Obama, his campaign says.

By / July 23, 2008

The Media has been providing heavy coverage of Sen. Barack Obama's trip abroad, including a Wednesday meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

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Washington - In a campaign week dominated by Barack Obama's trip abroad, the pro-John McCain camp has made headlines by complaining about coverage of Senator Obama's trip abroad.

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For Senator McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, crying foul on the news media represents a double-edged sword. On the plus side, he plays into the longstanding narrative that asserts reporters are rooting for Obama, the likely Democratic nominee, to win in November. Hillary Rodham Clinton played that card during the primaries, to some effect, but ultimately unsuccessfully.

A recent Rasmussen Reports poll backs up McCain, reporting a growing portion of likely voters see a bias toward Obama – now 49 percent, up from 44 percent a month ago. Only 14 percent believe reporters favor McCain. And the poll was taken before the McCain campaign complained publicly that the The New York Times had rejected an Op-Ed by the senator that responded to an Obama Op-Ed in the Times.

On the negative side, McCain risks looking like a whiner. Remember those bumper stickers from the 1992 campaign, "Annoy the Media, Vote Bush"? Bill Clinton defeated the first President Bush anyway.

"Typically, complaining about the media is one of the steps on the 12-step program to losing," says Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, which analyzes media coverage of the campaign. "When you're ahead, you don't complain about the press coverage, even if you think they only cover the gaffes and never the substance."

Still, he notes, it's early in the general election campaign, and McCain is trailing Obama by only a few points in the polls – outperforming his party's ravaged image. And, say others, there are good reasons for McCain to allege media bias.

"What you have here is a preemptive strike, a traditional tactic of politicians," says David Paletz, a political scientist at Duke University. "If you complain enough about media bias, journalists to some extent internalize it and think we have to be as tough, or maybe we're not being as tough on Obama as we are on McCain."