In Election Coverage, 'Sizzle' Outweighs Fairness

In the wake of The Big ThreeTM news anchors falling over each other to accompany Barack Obama on his trip to the Middle East and Europe (while ignoring John McCain's numerous trips around the globe), and the New York Times' decision not to run McCain's editorial rebuttal to the one written by Obama the paper ran two weeks earlier, Americans are right to wonder if media bias is at play during this presidential election.

Adding fuel to the fire, a recently released study showed that in a three-week period, the number of news stories in which Obama was the major focus easily outpaced that of his Republican counterpart.

During a CNN debate on the topic, political consultant David Gergen claimed that the discrepancy could be contributed to Obama's excitement factor as opposed to McCain's perceived dullness -- as Gergen described it, Obama's "sizzle."

Is this an election or a barbecue?

My mother wonders if there is a need to have an election on November 4. "We don't need to spend all that taxpayer money," she told me. "Just get the mainstream media together and let them decide the winner. Announce it now and get it over with." She added, "This is not an election, it's a coronation. It's a two-leg tingle. The media are making him into something larger than life."

We should ask Hillary Clinton how it feels to be expecting a coronation -- only to have the red carpet ripped out from under her and the crown and scepter yanked away by the very folks she expected to be lining the aisle of the cathedral.

In the days of yore, newspapers were often just mouthpieces for one political party or another, and their readers knew it. At least that way, news consumers could read a story about Senator Snort and know that the coverage about his speech would be either pro or con, depending on which party the senator belonged to and in which direction the paper's editorial board leaned. Today, journalists claim they strive to provide balanced, unbiased coverage -- yet half of Americans believe that the media is in the tank for Obama. Obviously there's a disconnect somewhere, but I doubt it's on the part of the American public.

Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Nicholas Lehamann had this to say of journalism and politics:

"There is a long tradition -- which is in no danger of ending anytime soon -- of journalism operating as a branch of politics. When objective journalism emerged, it was supposed to create an additional social role for journalists, as providers of information from which people could draw their own conclusions. To do that requires the journalist to try to suppress (of course, always imperfectly) personal feelings about a subject, and to seek out and convey information without regard to which side it might arm."

One could argue that journalists cannot be impartial -- after all, everyone brings his personal experiences and biases to everything he does and journalists, being human like the rest of us, are no exception to this rule. Yet it's one thing to write a straight news story that slants to the left or right. It's another thing entirely to devote more coverage to one candidate over another and use the lame excuse that one candidate is more "adept at generating excitement."

It's also another thing to run one candidate's editorial on his vision for Iraq and then refuse the other candidate's editorial rebuttal because, according to the New York Times' editorial page editor David Shipley:

"The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech); while Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans.

"It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq."

Newsflash to David Shipley: McCain's editorial was a rebuttal, not a Time Life Books® companion piece. And as the New York Times' readership is reputed to be intellectually savvy, I don't think there would be much danger of them confusing McCain's views with those of the left-leaning Times editorial board.

By the way, the New York Post snapped up what the Times rejected and published McCain's op-ed. The decision by the Times to reject McCain has turned into a major publicity nightmare. Better tell Pinch that's not exactly good news for stockholders.

Of course, every news outlet has the right to reject content based on editorial standards - our right to free speech does not translate to an obligation for a newspaper or other media outlet to publish us. But in this instance, the Times risks being labeled as lopsided. Ed Morrissey agrees:

"[I]f they offer the lame excuses Shipley does in this case for not publishing McCain's piece, then their readers can reasonably conclude that they have no objectivity in this election and have decided to become a campaign mouthpiece for Barack Obama."

According to the Committee of Concerned Journalists,

"While journalists need not be neutral, we should expect they will not have divided loyalties. If journalists get too close to those they cover it only makes it more difficult for them to understand or convey all sides."

Think of the reporter for a "neutral" news source admitting to his excitement about Obama's nomination, or the host of what purports to be a hard-news television show saying "I felt this thrill going up my leg" when hearing Obama give a speech.

America's love affair with celebrity is well known, and it's apparent that those who are supposed to report the news of the day, not make it, are susceptible to celebrity's charms. And the media's love affair with Obama isn't going to end any time soon. But this is an election, not the People's Choice Awards. The man who wins in November will take over the most powerful office in the nation and the world. It's imperative that Americans know how each candidate would fill that role so they can vote accordingly. The media's treatment of Obama as a rock star and McCain as a doddering old fuddy duddy not worth wasting ink on is a grave disservice to American citizens.

Pamela Meister is the editor for and a writer for Pajamas Media. The opinions she expresses here are her own.