[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, œis 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. œHe'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 herability to go toe-to-toe with the GOP attack machine, her campaignexacerbated instead of ameliorated her reputation for ruthlessness. Bybragging about how tough they were, says John Edwards's former chiefstrategist, Joe Trippi, they reinforced the sense of the media thateverything they did had a negative cast to it. At the same time,Trippi argues, œit made it really hard for them to call Obama on hisshit. How can you complain about Obama being negative when you'™rebragging about your willingness to do the same thing against theRepublicans?

Obama, by contrast, was in the enviable position of being able toauthor his own meta-narrative. With his two autobiographies, he wasable at once to accentuate his positive qualities and, in pointing outthe potentially damaging aspects of his past (his teenage drug usepreeminent among them), to inoculate himself against attacks. Thegrassrootsy, bottom-up, decentralized campaign structure that he andhis team built, funded by small donors via the Internet, enhanced theimpression of him as a man committed to a different kind of politics.And his strategists were wise enough to understand that when it wastime to go negative, they should never do so with TV ads but stickinstead to more sub-rosa media, from radio and direct mail torobo-calls. œIn my experience in politics, Trippi says, nobodyever really gets called out on that crap.

(hat tip: Isaac Chotiner)