The Press And Bias


Until very recently, there was no truer truth in the universe than the fact of media bias in favor of Barack Obama.

But what does that mean? And how did that influence the Democratic primary race?

I would begin by suggesting that media bias, per say, is a different phenomenon from the existence of a granite-written law that holds that, given a story, X, if there is any benefit of the doubt to be given away, it shall be given to Barack Obama.

Long ago, even before her run for the Senate, Hillary Clinton, in Michael Kinsley’s words, “became The Clintons,” and all the bundle of resentments that entails. The national press corps and the New York city press corps dug into her past, chronicled the travails of her marriage, established her character and identity as fixed and unchanging commodities, and saturated the market with information. She was – and is – simply less interesting than Obama if only because there is so much less about her to discover than there is about him.

So Obama’s story is newer, and therefore, by definition, it is more compelling. And it just happens to be quite compelling. Not just the narrative arc of his life, but also the intersection of his life and the political moment. That is something that Mark Penn could not control: this election happens to be about change, and Obama may not be about electability, or about readiness, or about strength, or about honesty with the Canadian government but change he is about.

Also, Clinton has consistently failed to meet expectations that her campaign set for itself, internally and externally, for more than a year. Fundraising – he trounced her in the first quarter of 2007. In crowd size. In measurable metrics – in verifiable, quantifiable ways that easily allow for rank ordering.

Then there is the media. The media – Entertainment Tonight, Tom Joyner, Vanity Fair, Men’s Vogue, Rolling Stone, People, BET, Monday Night Football, -- all of which went ga-ga for Obama (and Michelle), and all of which were just so over Hillary. This is the media, not the press corps.

Then there is white guilt, magnified by the progressive political impulse found within the professional set's cultural liberalism. We are transfixed by race, obsessed with it, we whites are obsessed with expiating the collective sins of our country, and that works to Obama's advantage. I think we feel we are done with gender (we aren't, but we feel as if we are) and so we don't meditate on those questions as much.

Chicago’s press has been tough to Obama; a cadre of investigators at the Tribune and the Sun-Times, and then Lynn Sweet at the Sun-Times especially.

Yes, he hasn’t received the same scrutiny as Hillary Clinton. But wait.

He’s a national figure for a pretty short period of time She’s been in the national press’s crosshairs for sixteen years. Remember: it took the press until George W. Bush’s second term to give a good scrubbing to George W. Bush’s National Guard record. (Actually, it took a #$*(#-up at 60 Minutes for the press to even pay attention to it.)

Media bias, per se, is a different phenomenon from the existence of a granite-written law that holds that, given a story, X, if there is any benefit of the doubt to be given away, it shall be given to Barack Obama.

Those women and men who have formed the core of Obama's traveling press contingent are sensitive to the charge of bias. They find Obama aloof and don't generally feel as if they go easy on him. Having read transcripts of his press availabilities and hers, I think they are right. I do not think these folks are responsible for, nor do they perpetuate, the "bias."

Many editors, producers, and analysts -- those of us who do not think and write in day-to-day but in week-to-week or in narrative-to-narrative, are more to "blame," if there is blame to be apportioned. I think this part of the professional class -- many of them cub reporters in the 60s and 70s -- was most impressed by Obama in 2004, was transfixed by his Democratic convention speech, internally anointed him as a superstar at that point, was terribly impressed by his post-racial worldview, and have always harbored a baby boomer's crib-cohort resentment towards the Clintons.

Anyway, I don't know if "blame" is the right word, though. To the extent that Obama deserves more scrutiny of his ties to Tony Rezko, of his record as a state senator, of his claim to have almost single-handedly moved lobbying reform legislation through congress, of his mantle as an anti-war leader -- of course he does.

But so, too, does Hillary Clinton deserve the scrutiny of her tax returns, the minute-by-minute accounts of her influence on Kosovo and Northern Ireland, the advice she gave to her husband, the precise nature of the role she played in creating the state-children's health insurance program.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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