Aired: July 25, 2008|
Media Dodges Accusations of Bias in Campaign
|As Sen. Barack Obama tours the Middle
East and Europe with network evening news anchors in tow, the campaign of GOP
Sen. John McCain has criticized the news media's coverage of the race - alleging
that Obama has unfairly received more favorable press coverage. Media experts
examine the debate.|
JUDY WOODRUFF: Barack Obama's overseas tour continued
in Paris today, where he met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee
Palace. At a press conference, Obama reflected on his week of travels. |
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: You know, I think, on a trip like this, what
typically happens is not blinding insight, but rather a deepening of some -- a
set of concerns that you already had. And so I didn't see a -- there was nothing
that I saw that caused me to change my basic strategic assessment of our security
situation moving forward and some of our top foreign policy priorities.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The presumptive Democratic nominee was accompanied by a larger-than-usual
press corps, and his events dominated cable and network news all week. Obama kicked
off his trip last weekend in Kuwait, en route to Afghanistan, where he played
basketball with U.S. troops. In Kabul, he met with the country's president, Hamid
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC Anchor: The trip has renewed focus on the
cornerstone of Obama's foreign policy, the withdrawal of all combat troops from
Iraq by 2010.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Then, onto Iraq, where Obama walked side-by-side
with the top military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus. The two later
toured a warzone by helicopter. He sat down with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,
who had declared his support for a timetable for withdrawal right before the visit.
On Wednesday, in the Middle East, Obama had a series of meetings with leaders
on both sides of the conflict. Thursday, more than 200,000 people crowded the
streets of Berlin to hear Obama's address.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I come
before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people
of improbable hope.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The still image of that speech splashed
across major newspapers this morning.
KATIE COURIC, CBS Anchor: It was
Barack Obama in Berlin today...
JUDY WOODRUFF: All week, networks vied
for access, punctuating each stop with interviews with the candidate. Late-night
comics mocked the coverage and the candidate.
JON STEWART, Host, "The
Daily Show": Of course, after a quick meet-and-greet with King Abdullah, Obama
was off to Israel, where he made a quick stop at the manger in Bethlehem where
he was born.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Obama wraps up his trip tomorrow in London,
with a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He'll be back on NBC
on Sunday, with a pre-taped appearance on "Meet the Press."
Project for Excellence
think the press has doubled over backwards to be tough and skeptical in the treatment
of the trip, even if the trip has been deemed to be fairly successful for Obama
Sen. McCain attempts to counter media
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, back in the U.S., John
McCain tried to counter Obama's coverage, appearing on the network morning shows.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: I know that he'll be able to have the
opportunity to see the success of the surge. It has succeeded.
He was asked if the press coverage of Obama's trip was unfair.
MCCAIN: That's up to the American people to decide, Diane. It is what it is.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In an appearance in Maine with the first President Bush on
Monday, McCain stressed his differences with Obama on the Iraq troop surge.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Senator Obama said it wouldn't work and couldn't succeed.
I put everything on the line for it because I'd rather lose a political campaign
than lose a war.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On Wednesday, cameras followed the candidate
to a grocery store in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The choreographed moment turned
awkward when jars of apple sauce spilled into the aisle. And, yesterday, while
the world watched live coverage of Obama's Berlin speech, McCain visited a German
restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Later, McCain poked fun at the media's attention
to his opponent's travels. He spoke at a town hall with former cyclist Lance Armstrong.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: My opponent, of course, is traveling in Europe, and
tomorrow his tour takes him to France. In a scene that Lance would recognize,
a throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris, and that's just the American
JUDY WOODRUFF: McCain's campaign made light of the Obama expedition,
even handing out "junior varsity" luggage tags to its press corps. Throughout
the week, McCain did his best to put his own spin on Obama's trip while showcasing
his own foreign experience. Today, he spoke to American veterans at the G.I. Forum
convention in Denver.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: If Senator Obama had prevailed,
American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi army would have
collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically. Above all, America
would have been humiliated and weakened.
JUDY WOODRUFF: McCain makes
a Sunday talk show appearance this weekend, too, on ABC's "This Week."
The Tyndall Report
entirely unprecedented that a premier candidate should be treated with this type
of coverage. |
Media bias in campaign coverage?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Was the McCain campaign right to
criticize the media's coverage of Obama's trip? And how has the press coverage
of the two candidates compared over the course of the campaign?
For that, we turn
to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the Tyndall Report, a newsletter that has monitored
the broadcast network evening news broadcasts for 20 years; and Tom Rosenstiel,
director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which evaluates more than
300 political stories each week in newspapers, magazines and television. Thank
you both for being with us.
Tom Rosenstiel, to you first, how do you size up the
coverage of Obama's trip?
TOM ROSENSTIEL, Project for Excellence in
Journalism: Well, there's been an enormous amount of coverage. This is more akin
to a presidential trip than a candidate trip. And I don't think that all the coverage
has been positive, however. We've been now about a week into questions about whether
the press is favoring Obama. And as a consequence of that scrutiny and that reflection,
I think the press has doubled over backwards to be tough and skeptical in the
treatment of the trip, even if the trip has been deemed to be fairly successful
for Obama or at least not -- some of the risks that people anticipated not coming
JUDY WOODRUFF: Doubled over backwards, Andrew Tyndall? How do
you see the coverage?
ANDREW TYNDALL, The Tyndall Report: Well, the
thing I think that really emphasizes Tom's point about it being treated as a head-of-state
trip rather than a candidate trip was the extraordinary decision by the broadcast
networks to send their anchors along to interview him on the way. It's entirely
unprecedented that a premier candidate should be treated with this type of coverage.
That really is reserved for heads of state. And even though I think the tone of
the interviewing was actually really quite hard-edged by all three anchors, the
fact that they sort of dignified this trip with their presence had a little smell
of a coronation about it really before the election has actually happened.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Andrew Tyndall, you're saying the networks made a mistake
in sending their anchors?
ANDREW TYNDALL: Absolutely, in my opinion.
The regular campaign correspondents could have covered it perfectly well and taken
care of all the journalistic business that needed to be taken care of.
Project for Excellence
if you can weather hard questions, that helps you as a candidate.|
Equal coverage or reflect reality?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Rosenstiel, you were saying
a lot of coverage, but they bent over backwards to try to balance it out. So on
balance, did Obama come out ahead in coverage or not? Or can we say at this point?
TOM ROSENSTIEL: Well, to some extent, if you can weather hard questions,
that helps you as a candidate. And so the skepticism that the journalists were
trying to demonstrate this week doesn't necessarily redound to any kind of negative
for Obama. One of the things that is the backdrop behind this is, in the first
six weeks of this general election phase, in our estimate, 78 percent of the stories
that we've studied have featured Obama as a significant presence in the stories,
and 51 percent have featured McCain. Obviously, stories can feature both candidates
in a significant way. That's a 50 percent advantage for Barack Obama. Exposure
doesn't guarantee success, but it is a necessary ingredient to success, and Obama
has more of that ingredient right now. And this trip helps, even if its questions
are tough, if you handle those questions effectively.
Well, Andrew Tyndall, the news -- I think many news reporters would argue, well,
Obama is more newsworthy. He's new on the scene. And yet I think one question
is, don't journalists have an obligation in a presidential campaign to balance
out, to equal -- equalize the coverage as much as possible?
No, that's not their first and foremost obligation. The first and foremost obligation
of a journalist is to reflect reality. And if the reality is that Obama is speaking
to 200,000 people in Germany and John McCain is in an aisle in the supermarket,
the 200,000 people are more newsworthy than Obama.
And you wouldn't be reflecting
reality accurately if you gave those two events equal weight. You'd lose all credibility
in the eyes of your audience, because you'd be saying this spectacular phenomenon
that's happening in Berlin is no more or less important than a photo-op in a supermarket.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Rosenstiel, what about this question of what journalists
have an obligation to do?
TOM ROSENSTIEL: Well, I mean, I think that
there's all kinds of reasons that journalists can say that Obama is more newsworthy.
He is new. He is an historic candidate. He is a phenomenon, drawing these magnificent
crowds. And there's an enormous amount of curiosity about him overseas, as well
Even, however, if all those reasons are justified, I
think there is a problem potentially if the press creates what is, in effect,
an un-level playing field. Unlike other news events, the news media are, in a
sense, the job interviewers on behalf of the public in a presidential campaign.
And I think we have to worry, as journalists, if we disadvantage one candidate
consistently over a long period of time. Now, we're not into a long period of
time yet. We're six weeks in. There's a lot of campaign to go.
do think that, even if newsworthiness justifies a lot of this, there is another
concern that journalists have to be worried about, which is, in effect, tilting
the situation so that McCain doesn't have as fair a shot.
The Tydall Report
phenomenon that we're talking about here is not that McCain is being ignored,
that he's not able to get his word out in the mainstream media.|
Candidates both break coverage records
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Tom, let me bring up quickly
-- the McCain campaign has put out just this afternoon a news release saying,
well, we may be getting skeptical coverage from the national media, but local
coverage -- and they're giving many examples of this -- for example, the front
page of a number of Pennsylvania newspapers this week -- John McCain got glowing
coverage, favorable-looking photographs of him with the woman in the grocery store,
TOM ROSENSTIEL: Yes, and not all of the coverage of Obama
in this advantage that he has is glowing coverage, either. In our studies, the
idea that Obama is flip-flopping and becoming a hypocrite as he tacks to the center
is a growing storyline, as are, by the way, rumors that he's secretly a Muslim
and not very patriotic. So, again, more exposure isn't necessarily always a good
thing or an unmitigated good thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Andrew Tyndall, some
irony here in the notion that the candidate who was calling the press his base
-- namely, John McCain -- is now the one who some are worrying is getting the
short end of the stick from the press?
ANDREW TYNDALL: Yes, he has --
this is an incorrect characterization to say he's getting the short end of the
stick. As you said, when you introduced me, I've actually monitored how the nightly
network news have covered every single campaign since 1988.
And I went
back and I ran the numbers, from Dukakis, and Clinton, and Dole, and Gore, and
Bush, both Bushes. And I just looked at the first six months of each of the campaigns
that they'd been engaged in from 1988 onwards.
And McCain has actually
got more coverage than any other previous candidate, any of those five campaigns,
any of the top 10 candidates, two from each party. So he is not being under-covered.
The phenomenon that we're talking about here is not that McCain is being
ignored, that he's not able to get his word out in the mainstream media. It's
that this thing, Barack Obama, is head and shoulders a different category of treatment
of a candidate that we've ever seen before. So it's not that McCain is getting
the short end of the stick. It's that -- you know, Obama is not getting a stick.
He's getting a different category. He's getting a log, not a stick.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So how do you weigh that, Tom Rosenstiel, in a final comment?
TOM ROSENSTIEL: I mean, I think that's a very interesting point, a very good
point, but if you're John McCain, you'd like to have the same kind of cudgel,
the same size stick, the same weapon as the guy that you're opposite.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We're going to leave -- what was that, Andrew?
ANDREW TYNDALL: You know, give them all a cudgel. Let them go at it, you
JUDY WOODRUFF: But keep it away from the press, right? All right,
Tom Rosensteil, Andrew Tyndall, thank you both.
ANDREW TYNDALL: Thanks
TOM ROSENSTIEL: Bye-bye.