McCain camp cries foul
Media coverage favors Obama, his campaign says.
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That's not to say there really is a bias on the part of news reporters, he says. The first question is, what does one mean by "the media?" Cable TV channels devoted to politics, such as MSNBC and Fox, may display biases, but those are more forums for opinion, rather than straight news outlets. When voters tell pollsters they see bias in "the media," it's not clear which sources of coverage they're reacting to. And Obama has contended with plenty of negative coverage – from the flap over his former minister, Jeremiah Wright, to his comment about "bitter" voters, to the mini-tempest over his not wearing an American flag pin (which he now wears).Skip to next paragraph
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In the contest for quantity of coverage, Obama is winning hands down. The Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) conducts a weekly news index, surveying more than 300 newspaper, magazine, and TV stories, and has found that in the six weeks since the general campaign began, Obama has had significantly more exposure than McCain. Last week, Obama was found to be a "significant presence" in 83 percent of campaign coverage, versus 52 percent for McCain.
But, as Obama has learned, quantity isn't always a good thing. When the Reverend Wright matter flared, the Clinton campaign was more than happy to step aside and remain out of the headlines. Defenders of media coverage argue that Obama is the fresh new face on the political scene – and a historic one at that, given his mixed-race identity – and less known to the public than McCain, who has been in the public eye for decades. McCain himself boosted anticipation toward this week's Obama trip to the Middle East and Europe by posting a running tally on his website showing how long it had been since Obama last visited Iraq. McCain has visited Iraq eight times; on his last visit, in March, he was not accompanied by the anchors of the three major TV news broadcasts, as Obama has been.
For Obama, this week's trip poses risks, and not just to his security. If he commits a gaffe, all the world is watching – and if it's big enough, it could sink his campaign. So far, he's been gaffe-free, and so his image as a potential commander in chief could get a boost.
"The press coverage of his trip to the Middle East looks a great deal like the coverage of an incumbent president on a major world tour that has serious policy implications for the world," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. "There's an area in which you can legitimately offer a critique."