[Patrick Appel] John Heilemann tries to explain the media coverage of Obama and Clinton:

Campaigns are, at bottom, a competition between memes: infectious ideas that gather force through sheer repetition. The most powerful of these memes are what Just refers to as meta-narratives, the backdrops against which everything plays out in the media. Clinton'™s meta-narrative, she says, ?is that she'™ll do anything to win; she can't be trusted, she'™s ethically challenged; she'™s manipulative, calculating, and programmed. Obama'™s meta-narrative is decidedly otherwise. It'™s the same, in a way, as John McCain'™s, says Just. ?He's authentic, honest, free of taint. Then you add in new, charismatic, and an agent of change. [...]

By arguing that one of Clinton'™s key virtues was her ability to go toe-to-toe with the GOP attack machine, her campaign exacerbated instead of ameliorated her reputation for ruthlessness. By bragging about how tough they were, says John Edwards's former chief strategist, Joe Trippi, they reinforced the sense of the media that everything they did had a negative cast to it. At the same time, Trippi argues, ?it made it really hard for them to call Obama on his shit. How can you complain about Obama being negative when you'™re bragging about your willingness to do the same thing against the Republicans?

Obama, by contrast, was in the enviable position of being able to author his own meta-narrative. With his two autobiographies, he was able at once to accentuate his positive qualities and, in pointing out the potentially damaging aspects of his past (his teenage drug use preeminent among them), to inoculate himself against attacks. The grassrootsy, bottom-up, decentralized campaign structure that he and his team built, funded by small donors via the Internet, enhanced the impression of him as a man committed to a different kind of politics. And his strategists were wise enough to understand that when it was time to go negative, they should never do so with TV ads but stick instead to more sub-rosa media, from radio and direct mail to robo-calls. ?In my experience in politics, Trippi says, nobody ever really gets called out on that crap.

(hat tip: Isaac Chotiner)