Election '08 Media Coverage: The Highs and The Lows

BlogHer Original Post

Halleluljah! The 2008 election is almost over. It's been exciting, inspiring, historic and incredibly contentious. Soon we won't be hearing anymore about John "Mr. Grumpy Puss" McCain and Barack "Mr. Tax and Spend" Obama or Sarah "We're Mavericks" Palin or Joe "I"m From Scranton" Biden. But before we move on to the next act in this political drama, let's take a look back from a media standpoint.

In a campaign year when many Americans got their news from the internet: YouTube, Facebook, campaign websites and hundreds of blogs on the internet that helped shape public opinion and motivate voters, it would be a mistake to forget the power the mainstream media (MSM) still holds over shaping a candidate's image.

Here are some Election 2008 MSM highs and lows.

Highs

CNN's Campbell Brown's "Race Baiting" Rant: Way to go Campbell Brown for calling it the way it was.

More Blacks And Women Around The Pundit Table: Though it should have happened ages ago, it finally took having a woman and a black man running for president to make the MSM realize you need more than a bunch of the same old white men sitting around the pundit table.

Katie Couric's Interview With Sarah Palin: It gave Katie back her public credibility and it gave us a rare yet unsettling glimpse of Sarah Palin.

Charlie Gibson's Interview With Sarah Palin: Charlie Gibson didn't need to get his credibility back, but he conducted a fair interview.

Bob Schieffer At The Last Presidential Debate: Schieffer's a pro and it showed. He fought a losing battle trying to pry the candidates off their talking points, but it was the most substantive of the presidential debates and Shieffer was one of the reasons.

Tom Brokaw's Interview With Colin Powell: Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama on "Meet The Press" was big news and Brokaw challenged Powell with all the questions he knew needed to be asked.

Hot Topics On "The View:" Love her or hate her, ya' gotta tip your hat to former host Rosie O'Donnell for putting "The View" on the political map. Her clashes with resident Republican Elisabeth Hasselbeck might have been noisy, but they were refreshing. Here were two women arguing passionately about 9/11, Iraq, George Bush and other issues important to every American. When Whoopi Goldberg arrived as Rosie's replacement, she brought a cooler head and less confrontational style, but the Hot Topics segments still made for good television. The show even had Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama co-host---separately of course---and the Gabby Girls' grilling of John McCain on his one visit since becoming the nominee made headlines.

Barbara Walters deserves to be commended for seeing which way the wind was blowing and allowing political discussion to make "The View" relevant in a big way.

David Letterman's Interview With John McCain: The folks at "Meet The Press" should consider having Letterman replace the late Tim Russert, 'cause Letterman conducted a Russert-worthy interview. McCain pretty much stuck to his talking points, but Letterman asked all the questions I would have asked and didn't let him off easy.

Keeping The Candidates' Kids Off The Table: Including the unmarried, pregnant teen daughter of Sarah Palin.

Dad and Daughter Talk Politics: Check out this email exchange between CBS political correspondent Jeff Greenfield and his daughter, an associate at a law firm about the media coverage of Hillary Clinton. Who says there's no intelligent conversation left in this country?

Lows

Fox News Channel, King of the Lows: There were so many examples, but exhibits A and B would be the non-existent "Terrorist Fist Jab" and the "Outraged Liberals: Stop Picking On Obama's Baby Mama" graphic. They were obnoxious and racist...yeah I said it...racist insinuations designed to undercut two very smart and accomplished black professionals.

Writing Off John McCain Last Year: Campaign staff shakeups in the summer of 2007 had many in the MSM writing John McCain off as dead in the water. Obviously he had the last laugh.

Overuse Of Un-Named Sources: It's one thing to use un-named sources once in a while and on an issue of national security, but the now consistent use of un-named sources, especially over gossip items, undercuts the little bit of credibility the MSM has left. Like the story from last February that suggested John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist ten years ago. Like the stories just last week accusing Sarah Palin of being a "diva" and of "going rogue."

Barbara West's TV interview with Joe Biden: That's the one that featured the question, "How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?" Why not just ask if Obama's a Nazi? Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel commented on the lessons learned from that interview. He predicts the interview will be taught in journalism schools for years to come.

Predicting Instead Of Reporting: Memo to the MSM, stop trying to tell us what will happen instead of telling us what has happened. That way lies madness, for you and for us.

Gaping Holes In The Coverage Of Potential Voters: The lack of coverage of issues pertaining to anyone who wasn't part of the chosen stereotype this year: Hockey Moms, Wal-mart Moms, Joe Six Packs/Plumbers, white women. If you weren't a Mom or married or a suburbanite, you were pretty much ignored. Hello MSM, there are single Americans, gay and lesbian Americans, Native Americans, black women Americans and Americans who live in the city. Next time please don't ignore us.

No Women Moderators For The Presidential Debates: This year of all years, come on. Nothing against Gwen Ifill, I think she's great, but how is it they relegated the black woman to the Vice Presidential wannabes?

A Marked Impatience With The Process: I don't particularly care if the MSM is upset or inconvenienced because they don't know who the nominee is going to be. They should keep it to themselves. Primaries aren't held for the convenience of the press.

The Coverage Of Hillary Clinton: Eric Deggans of Tampa Bay.com wrote an article "Did Hillary Clinton's Media Problems Doom Her Campaign?" In it there's a link to a video put together by the Women's Media Center of sexist and demeaning comments by political pundits directed not only at Hillary Clinton, but all women. If you thought there wasn't any sexism going on in the coverage of Hillary Clinton, check out the video. It'll curl your hair.

Based on that alone, Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson and Pat Buchanan get my vote for Sexist Slugs of the Year.

In a discussion on CNN's "Reliable Sources" hosted by Howard Kurtz from last March CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin talked about why she thought Hillary Clinton was getting more "aggressive coverage:"

"I'm going to be the odd man out here, Howie, and say that I do think the press has been tougher on Senator Clinton, and I think there are a lot of reasons for it. And most of them -- or many, I should say, lie with the face that she has had this adversarial relationship with the press for so many years, she is a well-known quantity. So, telling her story isn't as interesting and fresh and new as telling the brand-new story of Barack Obama.

So, naturally, he's going to get that nicer coverage to begin
with, while, you know, critiquing her will is going to be the more
interesting, informative story at the beginning. Over time it's evened out a bit, and I think to the extent she's still getting negative coverage, it has to do with the fact that she has these abysmal relations with the press. It's a combative, aggressive relationship. You compare it to the way the Obama people relate to the press, much more engaged, pleasant, even easier to deal with, and you're going to end up with, frankly, different kinds of coverage.

Those are the highs and lows as I see them, but many Republicans still feel they were the ones who lost in the biased campaign coverage sweepstakes. As proof, they point to the recent PEW Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism's poll about the negative coverage of John McCain:

In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one-the most unfavorable of all four candidates-according to the study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

However, the poll went on to say:

Much of the increased attention for McCain derived from actions by the senator himself, actions that, in the end, generated mostly negative assessments. In many ways, the arc of the media narrative during this phase of the 2008 general election might be best described as a drama in which John McCain has acted and Barack Obama has reacted.

Daspagnoli of Red State thinks like many conservatives do, that the media are in Obama's pocket:

Obama and his media conspirators understand the innate bias we women seem to have against each other and use it to their tactical advantage. Their current game plan is to manipulate us into believing that John McCain is erratic and lacks judgment for choosing a woman like Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. As long as they report and portray Mrs. Palin as a lightweight, a dim-witted pretty face who is all about power and a right-wing nut to boot, they think we women won’t support her.

However on the Democratic side, Jamison Foser at Media Matters thinks Republican claims of media bias are unfounded:

McCain and his allies were attacking the media back in the Spring, when reporters were obsessively scrutinizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- and openly acknowledging that they weren't giving McCain similar scrutiny. They attacked the media in late summer, when the media were breathlessly touting the"authenticity" of a Sarah Palin speech that was filled with falsehoods.

He goes on to say:

But if, as the polls suggest, Barack Obama is elected next Tuesday, those attacks will have ultimately proven unsuccessful, right? Wrong.

First, that's a silly way to assess whether a strategy has "worked"; a candidate can derive benefit from a strategy without winning.

Second, it ignores the long-term goals of the attacks: to delegitimize an Obama presidency in the eyes of many Americans, and to browbeat journalists into covering an Obama administration much more critically than they otherwise would.

Conservative Gal at YouDecide2008, who also believes in a liberal media bias predicts the "Obamedia Will Lose" if McCain supporters unite.

However Tami at What Tami Said gave the following advice weeks ago to any voter trying to predict where the election might go:

Political analysis that does not take into account the biases of the analyzer is worthless. Want to know where the presidential race is going? Over the next few weeks, partisans and political types need to think like Independents. They are the key.

Hopefully on Election Day the media onslaught will consist of many more highs than lows. However it's always safer when dealing with the MSM or new media for that matter---and here I'm going to borrow the Syms clothing store tag line---to be an educated media consumer.

Find out who's writing the articles you're reading and what their biases are. Understand how the 24 hour TV news cycle works and why it can often make a story appear larger and more important than it really is, or swallow up an important issue you need to know much more about.

What media highs and lows would you add to this list? Don't be shy, I won't bite.

P.S.: The worst, most egregious MSM low? Not challenging the candidates on the following:

  • It's Washington, not War-shing-ton, Sen. McCain.
  • It's Taliban, not Tal-ee-ban, Sen. Obama.
  • It's Nuclear, not Nuke-u-lar, Gov. Palin

Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television and YouTube and she's going to exercise her right to vote on November 4th, 2008. Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock, and Video Runway.

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