I Told You So

November 18, 2008

By Stephen Noriega

I posted the blog on September 15th, 2008. It was right after the GOP convention, when everyone loved her. I said this was the worst pick for the John McCain campaign. Now I get to say, “I told you so” with pride, annoying volume and belligerent indignation.


Photo by The National Inquirer, distributed 2008

It came to pass quickly, Senator McCain, that your only path to winning an election was doing things that may damage you further than this campaign. Governor Palin took John McCain places that he will regret. In the heat of this contest, with veneers of anger shrouding the obvious, McCain fell into the Palin trap of off-message rants and poisonous speeches designed to illicit fear and xenophobia, not optimism or hope©.

Governor Palin made it quite clear that she wished to be an active, policy-making Vice President. This is simply a continuation of a modern trend. Starting with Richard Nixon and his ambassadorial skills, the Vice President has slowly become more important. Al Gore was often criticized for taking an excessive role in helping Clinton with policy issues. Dick Cheney took the office to a whole new level, holding secret meetings, being in charge of entire policy realms and showing a true disdain for Congress and even the voters.

Did McCain really want a powerful vice president with whom he could barely get along? Sarah Palin did not answer the third grader’s question incorrectly. She meant that she wanted to have power and influence over the Senate. Perhaps Sarah Palin is not ignorant about constitutional issues, at least compared to most other people. Sarah Palin has been an executive of larger and larger offices and she saw this as a path to even more political clout. She will certainly not be another Thomas R. Marshall (considered the laziest Vice President under Woodrow Wilson). She wanted to be another Dick Cheney. Perhaps she knows painfully little about the Constitution. This is even more frightening than a politician’s ambition. With the clothing scandal, she may end up being another Spiro Agnew, constantly messing with McCain’s authority like Agnew did with Nixon until being pulled asunder by a petty transgression. (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oew-edwards-lichtman5-2008sep05,0,5935217.story)

It is not just Palin’s eye on power that had McCain in a bad way because of her. Palin is a politician, and politicians seek power. That is what they do. But Palin couldn’t even follow the talking points of the campaign. McCain must have developed serious reservations about how she will follow policy talking points once comfortably in Washington, D.C. When the issue of Palin’s clothes emerged as a thorn in the campaign, everyone tried to stifle the nano-scandal and move on. Not Governor Palin. She continued to defend the $150,000.00+ makeover.

Even people in the McCain campaign revolted. Anonymous rats, stinging with bitterness of being in the wrong campaign, started to take shots at the candidate with the anxious ears of the press wide open.

“She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone… She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: divas trust only unto themselves as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.” (CNN – 10/2008)

Palin has shown sides of this in the media view. Instead acting humble, especially after some disastrous interviews with infamous soft-ball-throwers like Katie Couric, Palin went on the offense. She spewed venom at rallies that incited the lunatic fringe of her party with never a speck of clarification or apology. When McCain saw the potential destructive nature of this, he voiced his disapproval of the personal hatred campaign, something an honorable person does. Palin apparently never got the memo.

With each bumble, misunderstanding of history, petty scandal and word of aggression, Governor Sarah Palin demonstrated how she was the worst pick the McCain campaign could have made. This is not about gender. This is not about politics or political agendas. This is about a person who did not deserve, because of a lack of competence, any consideration of such an importance office.


My Friends, My Friends, My Friends

October 8, 2008

By Alicia Long

There were high hopes for last night’s debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain.  With Obama widening his lead in the polls (his current lead is around 4-9 points nationally), McCain really needed this debate to help him turn the trend back into his favor.

The high hopes that McCain fans had for this second debate were justified.  Late last year, McCain had all been counted out in the race for the Republican ticket.  Some blogs even had reader polls as to when McCain would drop out (The Right’s Field had the longest running poll on this topic).  But McCain fought his way back using town hall-style meetings with thousands of New Hampshire residents all across the Granite State, and ultimately winning the January primary and rocketing his way to the Republican nomination.

Town hall meetings are McCain’s favorite way of communicating with voters, and he typically does very well in this format.  Many politicos felt that since the second presidential debate was a town hall, McCain had a good opportunity to reignite his campaign.  Unfortunately, he did not succeed.

I’m not saying McCain didn’t do well.  In fact, both Obama and McCain did well in this debate.  The popular opinion amongst the talking heads was that McCain needed this debate to be a game changer –  he needed to make a strong, new attack against Obama, or Obama needed to make a big gaffe – neither of which happened.  Both candidates stuck to their tried and true tactics and nothing really happened that made the performance of either candidate stick out.

This is not good for McCain.  This debate retained the status quo for voters, so one could argue that Obama “won” the debate.  Not because he did anything special or made better points than McCain, but simply because he came out of this debate the same way he came in… ahead in the polls.

CNN analysts thoroughly picked apart the debate last night.  This group is informative because it is compromised of Democratic and Republican analysts, as well as non-partisan journalists.  Overall, they rated Obama with a “B” and McCain with a “C.”  You can read more about their individual grades and opinions HERE (you can also give your personal grades through CNN’s online poll).

Just to mix things up a bit, I created tag clouds of Obama and McCain during the debate.  These tag clouds visually represent the 40 most frequently used words, with the biggest words being used the most frequently.


Visually, Obama definitely kept to the issues that are strong for him.  Health care, energy, and change were among the topics he kept bringing up.  Amusingly, the word he used most was “going.”


One thing I am not surprised to see in McCain’s cloud is the word “friends.”  I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say “my friends” so many times in 90 minutes.  This is something he says frequently in his town halls, and last night was no different.  However this came off as less of a personable remark and just became annoying after the first half hour.

Thanks for reading my post, my friends.

Palin Is Your Worst Pick

September 15, 2008

By Stephen Noriega

I have given myself pause after the convention, after the initial excitement and after the first interview to give my humble opinion on the Sarah Palin pick for Vice President. I must admit that when I first heard of the pick, I thought to myself, “What in the heck we’re you thinking?” After long deliberation and after looking at all the possible future permutations of your campaign, Senator McCain, I have just one thing to say.

What in the heck we’re you thinking?

This piece is not a hatchet job on Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a politician that has risen to a high office and deserves the respect of that accomplishment. This obviously will not be a worship piece on her either. Once the ether wears off and people begin to study her, they will rally to her less. Becoming the governor of Alaska is no small task. For this, Palin should be commended. As a flash of interest and short-term strategy, Governor Palin was a brilliant pick by the Republicans. However, the time of her brilliance and her reality had better be more than fifty-some days if the Republicans don’t want to be embarrassed this November.

It is silly to attack Governor Palin for being a mother and future grandmother. I couldn’t care less about that stuff. If I ever cared about anyone’s family obligations and their ability to serve, I would advocate for candidates to only have one child (in college or older) before they could run for a higher office. That just doesn’t compute. Nancy Pelosi has five children and seven grandchildren. She does just fine. This may sound harsh but I could care less (except for historical curiosity) that she is female. We have been taught that men and women should have equal chances in all avenues of life. Thus, I have no reason to like or dislike the pick based solely on gender.

There are three reasons why Palin is a horrible choice.

First, she will only solidify part the base in the end.

I know that she has induced a spike in likely female voters. This looks promising but I believe that women voters are the most educated, issue-aware segment of the voting population. When some of her stances on choice, education and health care become evident, that spike will disappear. Palin has energized the far-right base right now. However, even fellow conservative have knocked the choice. David Frum said about Palin’s experience, “Ms. Palin’s experience in government makes Barack Obama look like George C. Marshall.” Of course, Frum’s statements, the first time Obama has been compared with the author of the Marshall Plan, could be dismissed as conservative chauvinism. Not this one. Dr. Laura Schlessinger sharply criticized the Palin pick from a conservative viewpoint of female roles and the family. I could not disagree more with her position but I think it might erode at some conservative voters when they really start thinking about Palin’s situation. McCain might think he can strip away some PUMA voters. This group is like any typical protest voting block. Andrew Dice Clay could be McCain’s pick and the PUMA’s would still vote for him because of how Obama treated Hillary. Thus, Palin does not do much to pick up votes there.

Some of Governor Palin’s conservative credentials will simply not pan out. She claims to be an enemy of earmarks, rebuking the Bridge to Nowhere and bragging about Alaskans building things for themselves. The truth, well-known now, is that Palin initially supported the Bridge to Nowhere.

News.Spreadit.org, 9/2008

The truth about earmarks and Alaska is simple. Alaska receives more earmark dollars per capita than any other state in the union. According to Mark Murray of MSNBC, Palin as Governor requested hundreds of millions in earmarks every year. Fiscal conservatives would not be happy to know this. Social conservatives may not be super happy to know that she smoked marijuana when it was legal in Alaska (Anchorage Daily News, 8/6/2006 – http://dwb.adn.com/news/politics/elections/governor06/story/8049298p-7942233c.html). Of course she said she didn’t really like it and certainly does not currently use it because it would be a bad influence on her kids. Religious conservatives might be in love with Palin now. However, when some of her church stuff gets out there, some might hesitate. Some clips from the Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla seem to imply that Alaska has a special role to play in evangelizing the world. The evangelists in Missouri that believe the rapture will begin in Jefferson City might have a real problem with that! But seriously, she might be put in a position to renounce something her church says and then the Right might start to peel away from her. Some of Palin’s political stances will totally line up with the far-right of the Republican Party. However, the Political Middle and the GDI (God Dang (another word) Independents) will not eventually be comfortable with her stances. She has an absolute stance on abortion. She believes it should not be legal in cases of incest or rape. Governor Palin also believes that intelligent design should be taught along side evolution in schools. According to On The Issues (http://www.ontheissues.org/Sarah_Palin.htm ), Governor Palin strongly favors teacher-led prayer in school. I’m sure that is under the assumption that the teacher will lead the students in a Christian prayer! The independents will become less and less likely to follow her. America is often characterized as center-right. The center will not subscribe to these beliefs in the end.

The second reason Governor Palin is a poor choice is her inexperience. I concede that experience is not the main characteristic necessary for getting elected and even being a successful president or vice president. However, sometimes inexperience has a dreadful outcome. For every John F. Kennedy there is a Jimmy Carter. As far as inexperienced Vice Presidential candidates, for every Harry S. Truman there is a James Stockdale.

Dan Quayle was questioned on his apparent inexperience even tough he had been elected twice to the U.S. House and twice to the U.S. Senate. Dan Quayle ended up serving as a perfect Vice President, at least for Saturday Night Live and the pototo(e) industry. Barack Obama is getting shelled constantly on the experience question. This is a valid argument. It is an argument of strength for McCain. However, he turns around and selects an inexperienced running mate. The campaign hid this inexperience through rehearsed speeches and catch-phrases. However, in her first, edited, fairly easy interview, Palin showed her inexperience through rote answers and she showed her ignorance by simply not knowing what the Bush Doctrine was. The legitimate press will tear at her experience like the tabloids will feast on her daughter’s pregnancy. She will either have to avoid shows like Hardball, Meet the Press and Face the Nation or hope that she is an incredibly fast study on matters she has never had to worry about.

There were other, more experienced women from whom to pick. Senators Olympia Snowe and Kay Bailey Hutchinson are respected Republicans. I know, I know, John McCain needs a non-senator. How about Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Labor? She has great experience and has helped with overtime reform. Perhaps McCain feels he needs a true executive. How about Governor Jodi Rell from Connecticut or Governor Linda Lingle from Hawaii? Lingle is a Republican Governor in an extremely Democratic state, with an approval rating of 71%! All of these women have more experience than Palin.

The third reason this is a bad choice is that Palin totally outshines McCain. One of the funnier lines on Saturday Night Live was, “The race is tightening up. McCain now finds himself only six points behind Sarah Palin.” (SNL – 9/13/2008)

Palin is on the cover of TIME, Us Magazine, People, The National Enquirer, etc. She is everywhere. Aliens, foreigners and those who spend most of their lives in caves know Palin but not McCain, the twenty-six year veteran of the Senate. Sarah Palin is a huge media phenomenon right now. Pictures of them together look Palin look even better, and McCain even older.

Newsbusters.com, 2008

However, if her star fades, McCain will have no comparable light to keep the attention on him. If Palin had accomplished something outside Alaska, her brilliance would be less vulnerable to a press that likes watching heroes fall even more than falsely giving rise to them.

Now I know that everyone is currently in love with Sarah Palin. She is looking like the smartest V.P. pick since Thomas Jefferson. I know that the polls have bumped in her and McCain’s favor. Reality and Saturday Night Live will have something to say about Palin and McCain. The reality is that home foreclosures are still destroying the housing market. The Dow Jones just sank 500 points in one day. Hurricane Ike might result in gas going up from the imagined affordable level of four dollars a gallon. Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. All three American auto makers are teetering on the verge of oblivion. Unemployment is at a five year high. Inflation is rising while relative income is shrinking. These are not Democrat talking points. These are economic facts that could become Teflon coated spears for the shiny object – Palin and her older sidekick McCain.

If reality doesn’t work, and it doesn’t always for voters, the LIBERAL MEDIA might. The LIBERAL MEDIA might start asking Governor Palin about things beyond her personal story in an attempt to discover if she is truly qualified to be president just in case a 72 year-old man doesn’t make it through a rigorous presidency. Ever see how fast presidents age? Tina Fey will do her best to satirize Governor Palin. This may seem small but I remember how Chevy Chase ‘framed’ Gerald Ford. People may not listen much to CBS and the New York Times but many do listen to SNL, Colbert and Stewart.

John McCain, you once said about Iraq that you would rather lose an election than see our country lose a war. Are you now ready to lose an election in order to win an election? We’ll see if your pick was insane genius or desperate politics soon enough.

Don’t Act Like Him, Don’t Talk Like Him

August 14, 2008

Stephen Noriega – The McBeat

I just stopped watching John McCain give a press conference on the Georgia situation. He should be able to dominate Barack Obama in this. Obama released a less than inspiring release from Hawaii about the invasion by Russian forces into Georgia. For all of you who do not understand, yes, Russia is driving tanks down Peachtree Avenue, has captured Atlanta and only John McCain cares.

But seriously, John McCain looked good. He touted his experience with Georgia, his trips to that country, and his relationship with the leadership there. He almost had this in the bag until he mispronounced the name of the president.

New School Politics 2-2008

Now, Georgian names are not easy to pronounce for us English speakers. Josef Stalin was a Georgian and his original name was Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili. The President is Mikheil Saakashvili (Not Sashkavili or Shashkvili). The capital city is Tbilisi. This is translated from a writing system different from the Roman alphabet or the Cyrillic system used by the Russians. Still, it has become somewhat important to know these names.

McCain has now mispronounced his Georgian friend’s name at least four times in the media.

Normally this would not be a super huge deal. As Americans, we do not expect our leaders to give much linguistic respect to other states or their leaders. However, this election is a little different. This election might actually have to do with intellect, articulation and pronunciation.

It is a political given that the far left will make fun of McCain and the far right will make fun of Barack Obama for any gaff statements. Likewise these sides will defend their candidates to the very end. The Democrats and Republicans will not see massive defections. This is just not historically supported. The two campaigns need to focus on a particular group of people that have leaned to the right but make no promises for 2008.

The group that has awarded Bush in the last two elections for his personality more than his eloquence is the GDI – The God Damn Independents. They have looked at issues like national security, taxes (valid enough) and whether they would like to have a beer / go bowling with them (not so valid). Even with the GDI having major concerns about Iraq and a runaway deficit, they chose President Bush over Kerry. Kerry just was not one of them. While they worried about small business taxes and Al Qaeda, Kerry went windsurfing.

Amerika.nl 2004

In similar times, the dreaded elite label could drag Obama down. His snubbing of certain beverages and foods on the campaign trail while drinking organic teas and Starbuck potions could cost him much. His misguided and aloof comments in San Francisco about certain people clinging to guns and religion could be a death nail in 2004. However, in 2008, it is not.

Chicago Sun Times 2008

The GDI, as well as many more in the middle of political America, are less concerned about with whom we want to have a beer, or organic tea for that matter. The people in the middle have started to feel their own embarrassment glands ache as the world laughs at our leaders. It is not becoming enough to drink a beer with the President. The President needs to get things done. John McCain can fit the bill, but he must avoid looking silly. This is a rare time for any Republican candidate, trying to honor the brand of the party while still trying not to appear too much like the outgoing, two-term president.

Huffington Post 2008

I am willing to bet that Barack Obama, on his way back from Hawaii, is practicing names like Medvedev, Saakashvili and Tbilisi. McCain better do the same unless he wants a highlight reel like the one below. Unfortunately, McCain’s reel will be shorter because he will pay better attention or because he will lose the election.

CBS and McCain

July 29, 2008

By Alicia Long

On Tuesday, July 22, McCain was interviewed by Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News:

Couric Senator McCain, Sen. Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?

McCain: I don’t know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane (phonetic) was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history.

You can watch the entire interview on CBS’s website HERE (this particular question is at about 3:15).

There is one major problem with McCain’s statement. The Anbar awakening took place months before there were even rumors about a troop surge in Iraq. The problem here is that McCain is staking his campaign on his ability to understand foreign affairs and win the war in Iraq. But McCain’s gaffe aside, there is perhaps a bigger issue here.

On Tuesday, on the CBS Evening News, CBS didn’t air the interview the way it really happened. McCain’s original answer to Couric’s question got cut out, and replaced with an answer that he gave to ANOTHER question. CBS answered by saying:

The report was edited under extreme time constraints and one piece of tape was put in the wrong order. Fortunately, this did not in any way distort what Senator McCain was saying.

This “cutting and pasting” of the interview absolutely did “distort” what Senator McCain was saying. In fact, it simply changed what he was saying. That is why this sort of out-of-order splicing of interviews is generally not allowed by news organizations.

A Pro-Obama Media?

July 28, 2008

“The Biblical term for it is ‘Deliverance,’” said MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in commenting on the Obama campaign. “We are being picked up and taken where we want to go…”

While Matthews is among the most dreamy-eyed of journalists in his thrilled obsession with Obama, there are many other journalists claiming a widespread pro-Obama sentiment in the media. Consider the following sampling of journalists commenting on the “Obama-love” of their peers:

“The media’s love affair with Barack Obama is all consuming…” — Joe Scarborough

“The feeling most people get when hearing a Barack Obama speech is…I get this thrill going up my leg, I don’t have that too often…” — Chris Matthews

“I must confess my knees quaked a bit…” Lee Cowan

“Its more than love, it’s the kind of love that anybody whose been a ninth grade boy understands this species of love. I think about you when I go to bed, too embarrassed to stand up, its sealed with a kiss love” –Tucker Carlson

Following in the steps of a famous Saturday Night live spoof of the media’s pro-Obama bias, the McCain camp has recently released its own humorous montage of “Obama-moments” in the starry-eyed media. Enjoy them both…

Saturday Night Clip


McCain Camp “The Media Loves Obama” video

Is the hype real? Are media commentators and reporters truly obsessed with covering Obama, and is their coverage slanted in favor of Obama? What do the answers to these questions teach about how the media covers elections?

Evidence of Obamania in the Media

There is good evidence that stories focusing on Obama have received more air and print time throughout the election than stories focusing on McCain. The non-partisan Project for Excellence in Journalism tracks a wide range of media stories in its “Campaign Coverage Index,” and in every week since the race has narrowed to McCain and Obama, they have found substantially more stories focused on Obama than on McCain. In mid-July, they offered the following coverage chart, and reported that

“Obama was at least a significant presence in fully 77% of the campaign stories studied, compared with 48% for McCain. Obama has led in coverage in all five weeks since the race narrowed to two presumptive nominees. A week earlier, that gap narrowed to 11 points and offered the prospect that the coverage might equalize, but last week suggested that might not be the case.”

Another study, by the Tyndall center reporting the same kinds of findings—discovering three times as many broadcast minutes dedicated to Obama than to McCain stories in the weeks after the primary season ended.

Is More Coverage Better Coverage?

Obama receives the lion-share of media attention, it’s true—but is that necessarily good? The media is known for their penchant for scandal, for their obsession in discovering flaws, conflicts, and contradictions, and then exposing them to maximizing drama and attract viewers. Perhaps much of the coverage on Obama is actually negative—obsessing with such things as Obama’s alleged radicalism, his race, rumors of his Muslim/Madrassa background, and his political inexperience?

There is a sense out there that the media is slavishly pro-obama in their bias. Rush Limbaugh, for example, makes it part of his daily fodder to berate the Obama-love in the air—though relying on Limbaugh as an expert in media balance is a bit like consulting the Flat Earth Society for directions on your upcoming “round-the-world” cruise.

“The Soviet leaders from Lenin and Stalin all the way up to Brezhnev and Gorbachev, they never got this kind of fawning press from Pravda and they owned it. I mean, they wrote their own press and they didn’t get this kind of good coverage. The Beatles never got this. Princess Di never got this…The Drive Bys have arrested development. They are just a bunch of teenagers here. The only thing they haven’t done is throw their underwear and bras at the guy when he’s up there on stage, yet.” –Rush Limbaugh, on Obama’s favorable press coverage

It’s early in the game, and beyond these kinds of general impressions, there is very little way in the serious scholarship proving whether the media coverage, overall, is biased towards or against Obama. What scholarship there is actually suggests that Obama has perhaps received more negative, rather than positive, coverage from the press.

Here’s an L.A. Times story, summarizing recent findings from a well-respected university media-research center.

“The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, where researchers have tracked network news content for two decades, found that ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign.

You read it right: tougher on the Democrat.

During the evening news, the majority of statements from reporters and anchors on all three networks are neutral, the center found. And when network news people ventured opinions in recent weeks, 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative.

Network reporting also tilted against McCain, but far less dramatically, with 43% of the statements positive and 57% negative, according to the Washington based media center.”

And what about that data from the Project for Excellence in Journalism which showed that Barack Obama received substantially more attention from the media than did McCain? Well, it turns out much of that attention might actually not be so great for his campaign. The Project for Excellence in Journalism points out that most of those Obama stories were centered on an obscene Jesse Jackson quote criticizing Obama for “talking down to Obama,” and threatening bodily harm. Two other topics taking up a lot of Obama air-time were documentation of Obama’s evolving/changing positions as he moved to the “center” in order to win the presidential election, and stories focusing on the Clinton/Obama divide in the party. Issue coverage of the economy and Iraq also made an appearance, but they did NOT drive the coverage. It’s not at all clear that obsessive coverage of issues like campaign gaffes, party division, and issue “flip-flopping” helps the Obama campaign. Remember the media pack journalism frenzy over the Reverend Wright comments damning America? Surely, Obama wished the media did not focus so heavily on him and his reverend during those days.

But all of these studies are early, and there is no denying the sense out there that the media coverage is indeed pro-Obama. The American public certainly thinks such a bias exists. In a Rasmussen poll, 49 percent of respondents believed reporters would favor Obama in their coverage this fall, compared with just 14 percent who expected them to boost Sen. John McCain. So let’s just assume that there is a love affair with Obama among the nation’s journalists, and that they are delivering obsessive and pro-Obama slanted coverage this summer.

What might account for such a result?

Answer 1: Liberal Bias

One of the most common answers, certainly the answer given by conservative journalists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, is that the media is “liberal” and is biased in favor of Democrats. Political Science textbooks will tell you that allegations of liberal media bias have become staple fare among conservatives, ever since the 1960s. But are the allegations true?

Here are some relevant facts (found in Government in America by George Edwards, et. al., and The New American Democracy, by Morris Fiorina, et. al.)

  • A L.A. times study in the 1980s found that reporters were twice as likely to identify as liberal than were members of the general public.
  • A 2002 survey of 1,149 journalists found that 37% identified as Democrats—only 19% said they were Republicans.
  • Opinion polls show that journalists are substantially to the left of the general public on social and cultural issues—and they are far more likely to take the “Democratic” position on such issues as abortion, gay rights, gun control, religion in public life, and drug laws.
  • Since 1964, more than 80% of the nation’s journalists have voted for the Democratic nominee in every presidential contest (including Republican blowouts like Nixon over McGovern in 1972 and Reagan over Mondale in 1984).

It is undeniable that the nation’s journalists tend to be more liberal/Democratic than the populace at large. But does that influence how they present the news? Does a Democratic reporter necessarily have to produce pro-Obama coverage? Here’s how a set of leading political scientists address that question.

“The vast majority of social science studies have found that reporting is not systematically biased toward a particular ideology or party. Most stories are presented in a ‘point/counterpoint’ format in which two opposing points of view (such as liberal versus conservative) are presented, and the audience is left to draw its own conclusions.” — George Edwards, et. al., Government in America, p. 231

Regardless of this evidence, not everyone agrees that the biased background of reporters doesn’t matter. CBS news reporter Bernard Goldberg claims that overall reporting topics and framing of issues is undeniably slanted by the cosmopolitan big-city environment in which most reporters live. He asks: “Do we really think that if the media elites worked out of Nebraska instead of New York; and if they were overwhelmingly social conservatives instead of liberals…do we really think that would make no difference?” (George Edwards, et. al. Government in America, p. 232).

Before a final word can be given on whether today’s media is pro-Obama obsessed or not, we will need more campaigning, more coverage and more serious scholarship. The bottom line is informed opinion is divided on whether the media is pro-Obama or not, and on whether it matters.

Answer 2: The Kennedy Factor

Another commonly cited reason for the media’s (alleged) pro-Obama slant is “the Kennedy Factor.” Many media pundits long for the charisma, the romance, and the wordly charm of the old Kennedy days—and in Obama, they see today’s young Kennedy rising again. Consider the following example, posted on various website, including the media research center and newsbull.com

To mark the 40th anniversary of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s death, Good Morning America’s Claire Shipman filed a fawning report on Thursday in which she compared Barack Obama to RFK. Splicing together footage of Kennedy and Obama, Shipman noted the “similarities” and nostalgically declared: “The search to shift that mantle, futile of course. But also a quintessentially American desire for, if not a happy ending, some sense of completion.”

At the top of the segment, Shipman cooed: “Even 40 years later, most Democrats can’t utter the name ‘Bobby’ without a wistful, ‘what if’ sort of reverence.” A true enough statement, but considering that the rest of the piece was all about Kennedy’s greatness, what does that say about the people who produced the segment? An ABC graphic cheered, “The Vision of RFK: Honoring an American Legend.” Shipman then proceeded to make her comparison clear:

SHIPMAN: Landmark crowds, striking charisma, a focus on healing the divide. [Video of Obama and RFK cut together.]

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: We are the hope of the future, the answer to the cynics who tell us, our house must stand divided.

BOBBY KENNEDY: This election will mean nothing if it leaves us, after it is all over, as divided as we were before it we began.

See the full transcript here, or here.

Along this vein, Any Youtube search will turn up dozens of clips of Obama himself referring to his desire to take up the Kennedy mantle. Those clips even include one featuring Caroline Kennedy (JFK’s son) and Ted Kennedy (JFK and Bobby Kennedy’s brother) claiming that Barack Obama is the candidate to help people:

“Over the years I have been deeply moved by the people who have told me that they wish they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way they did when my father was president….hopefully there is one candidate who offers that same hope and inspiration…” — Caroline Kennedy, President John Kennedy’s daughter, endorsing Barack Obama for President

“Every time I have been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic primary, my answer has always been the same…I’ll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our countries best days are still to come. I have found that candidate….It is time now for a new generation of leadership. It is time now for Barack Obama.” –Senator Ted Kennedy, President John Kennedy and
Senator Robert Kennedy’s brother, endorsing Barack Obama for President

Answer 3: Covering the Real News

A third reason for the tilt towards Obama in the media coverage (though not a reason for the alleged pro-Obama slant in that coverage) is that media outlets are simply covering the news. It is a fact that the Obama campaign is a ground-breaking, historic campaign. This is the first time a black man has won the nomination of a major party, his candidacy was an unpredicted underdog victory over the establishment candidate Hilary Clinton (who herself represented historic change, which could only double the interest in the Clinton/Obama contest and its eventual outcome), and his campaign has fueled a record-shattering surge of new and young voters across the nation. The fact is that the Obama campaign is NEWS, and it is no surprise that the media outlets cover it.

For his part, McCain has been on the public stage for decades—he simply cannot represent fundamental change or news in the same way the newcomer Barack Obama can, and especially since McCain is generally running to continue much of the legacy of the incumbent. Newcomers and challengers commonly receive more attention than old-timers and incumbents—the news, after all, tends to cover what is new.

When we are faced with the historic nature of the Obama campaign, and with truly newsworthy events by the candidate such as a trip to meet various world-leaders, while the McCain camp tours small towns in America, it is natural that Obama receives more coverage, says Bob Friedman senior vice-president of ABC news.”what are we supposed to do, go gin up some story about McCain to get some rough equality of airtime?” he said. “I don’t think so.”

NBC news president Steve Capus agreed. “We’re just trying to do our jobs. There’s no question that there’s great news value in Sen. Obama’s trip overseas. That’s why we are doing this.”

Other respected news figures such as Jim Lehrer of the PBS Newshour reiterates this opinion that the coverage of Obama is driven more by the newsworthy events that the Obama campaign is involved in (such as foreign trips and policy announcements) and the newsworthiness of Obama himself, than by some kind of inappropriate bias on the part of the media.

Public Desires and Pack Journalism

A final answer to “why all the coverage of Obama” relates to the phenomenon known as pack journalism. The fact is that the media is a business, with different operations like CNN, FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC and all manner of smaller outlets driven by the profit-motive to cover the kind of news people like to see. Competitive pressures to drive up ratings and secure viewers relates to the phenomenon known as “pack journalism”—which simply means that media outlets tend to obsess on the same or very similar stories day after day—stories that are proven winners in bringing in viewers and readers.

If stories about Obama gain more viewers—than journalists will “pack” around those stories, knowing that this is the only way to remain competitive in the race for ratings, advertising dollars, and (ultimately) survival as a media outlet.

The media wolves pack around popular stories, and the numbers don’t lie: Barack Obama is a popular story. The Rolling Stones March 2008 Obama cover was the magazine’s best seller of 2008, selling 40,000 more copies than usual for a month (about 25% more than normal). Some sales figures are mixed, and an Obama cover story is not always a ticket to rising sales, but more often than not, a focus on Obama results in a popular monthly magazine. Here’s how Conde Nast reporter Jeff Bercovici describes the numbers:

The Atlantic also scored big with its December issue, whose cover story was an Andrew Sullivan essay on “Why Obama Matters.” That issue, which sold 73,500 copies, was The Atlantic‘s best seller of the year, performing 28 percent better than average.

Three men’s magazines have put Obama on the cover so far. Men’s Vogue saw the biggest lift. Its Sept. 2006 issue sold 129,582 copies, the second-highest total for any issue so far, after only the debut issue, which was on newsstands considerably longer. GQs Sept. 2007 issue sold a little better than its average for the period, at 245,105 copies, but 12 percent less than the year-earlier issue, which featured Clive Owen.

Newsweek‘s July 16, 2007 issue sold 124,290 copies, putting it among the top-selling single-week issues of the year. And Time‘s Oct. 23, 2006 cover, “Why Barack Obama Could Be the Next President,” was the title’s second-best selling issue of the year, with 206,000 copies.

If it’s true that the media’s Obama obsession stems first and foremost from the public’s media obsession, it should fundamentally change the nature of the critique. In a free market economy, its hard to blame businesses for giving the consumers what they seem to want. When the public’s appetite for Obama coverage wanes, we can expect that media outlets (which are well attuned to which stories win the most viewers) will tilt their coverage elsewhere.

Obama versus Obama

Does any of it matter? Does it matter if Obama receives more media attention than McCain—and does it matter if that coverage is positive or negative? There have been many studies on the abilty of media coverage to influence or determine the mood or votes of the public—and the scholarly consensus is fairly strong. Scholars tend to pool around what is called a “minimal effects” school of thought when it comes to evaluating whether the media can shape public opinion. Media coverage cannot fundamentally change people’s opinion about issues, and the tone of coverage cannot determine nor much influence how people are going to vote. There are much stronger influences on people’s voting patterns, including the actual issues themselves, the strength of the candidates, and party identification. Media coverage is WAY down the list of factors influencing how someone is going to vote.

Still, scholars have found that although media coverage cannot fundamentally change how people think about things, media coverage does tend to have an effect in helping voters determine which issues are most important in their vote (in other words, which issues are most “salient”), and in helping voters decide how to “frame” the issues and their vote. In other words, the media coverage is unlikely to fundamentally turn a conservative voter in to a liberal, but unrelenting media coverage of Obama and his health care plan could help determine that most voters were highly focused on whether then liked or disliked Obama and his health care plan when they actually voted. Media coverage can help determine whether an election is mostly about McCain and his war record, threats of Middle East terrorism, or Obama’s Iraq plan—though the coverage can’t tell voters how to think about each of these issues.

To that extent, the media’s undeniable bias towards covering Obama might mean that this election will ultimately come down to a referendum on Obama, more than being a “choice” between Obama and McCain. When they pull those levers, voters might more than anything else be thinking about whether they are excited or terrified by the idea of an Obama presidency, and the answer to that question is likely to shape the results of the election. But again, it should be pointed out that the media reporters and executives didn’t force this Obama referendum on the American people—voters themselves, through what they read and what they are talking about, seem to have declared that 2008, more than anything else, is about how they feel about Barack Obama.

Yes We can? Or No We Can’t?

McCain’s Big Choice: Veepstakes 2008!

March 25, 2008

“The Vice President really only has two duties,” Senator McCain half-joked during the 2008 Iowa caucus debates. “One is to cast a tie-breaking vote in the case of a tie vote in the Senate, and the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president.” Following healthy laughter from the audience in the room, McCain added a more cutting observation that he did not expect to have a vice-president with the high-profile role that Dick Cheney has assumed under President Bush. “I would make very sure that the people understand that there is only one President,” McCain emphasized.

McCain’s Thoughts on the Vice-President’s Role

Though there is only one president, there is also only one vice president, and Americans know that there is a very real chance the vice-president will become the next president, either through presidential death/removal from office, or by running for the office in subsequent elections. Since 1968, there have been 7 different presidents—three were former vice-presidents (Nixon, Ford, and Bush the elder–and it was almost four, if Gore had pulled off the 2000 election). So it is not surprising that the newspapers, airwaves and blogosphere is filled with conjecture as to who McCain’s choice for vice-president will be (politico gossip certain to be repeated when Obama or Clinton seal the deal on the Democratic side). For examples of political analysis of who McCain might pick as his veep nominee and why, see any of the following: The Huffington Post, The LA Times, The National Journal, Rightwing News, or Yahoo.com.

Don’t like reading? Then here are some interesting video clips/roundtables discussing McCain’s vice-presidential nomination choice.

Pat Toomey: The Club for Growth

Fox News: Studio B

Fox News: You Decide 2008

Now onto my own analysis of McCain’s big choice—one of the very first substantive decisions he will make in his possible tenure as the new American president. To understand who McCain will choose as his nominee (I provide my predictions at the end of this entry), it is important to ponder the kinds of strategic considerations that McCain must weigh. In no particular order, some of those considerations are:

Addressing Age and Health Concerns

Although McCain downplayed the role of the vice president in this debate, he also nailed a key reason why American voters might look very carefully at McCain’s vice-presidential selection as they ponder their final vote: the president’s health. If McCain is elected president at 72 years old, he will be the oldest person to ever ascend to the presidency, and it can be expected that Americans will be very interested in who McCain has chosen to replace himself should he be unable to serve a full four or eight years. Assumedly, Americans will want the choice to be a trusted figure of national stature—someone they can easily imagine in Oval Office. “For Reagan in 1980, age was a big question, was a bigger issue than it is for McCain,” said McCain adviser Charlie Black, in remembering the important of Reagan choosing a respected vice-president, in order to address voters’ concerns. “The day Reagan picked George Bush, it went away. People looked at it and said, ‘Oh, we know this guy, we know he can handle it.”‘

Who fits the bill? General Colin Powell is a well-respected leader with decades of national experience. Though he too is of the older generation, he is considered of presidential timber by many Americans and may help Americans feel secure in the case he has to take on presidential duties. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has long been discussed as a presidential candidate, and his run for the presidency in 2008 may help him make the short list of those Americans are ready to see as their next president. Romney has even campaigned a bit for the spot in television appearances, making it clear that he would be “honored to be asked to serve as the vice presidential nominee.”

Solidify the Base: Woo the Social Conservatives

There are other factors in play that might also make McCain’s vice-presidential pick particularly important to his chances of winning the presidency. McCain is running as a maverick outside of the mainstream of his own party—so there are many who argue that McCain’s veep choice must be solid social conservative. McCain’s strength has never come from the deep South, from the pro-life movement, or from evangelical Christians—all vital constituencies in today’s Republican party. If McCain wants to avoid these groups sitting on their hands come November 2008, or going so far as a protest vote for the Democratic nominee (as some conservative commentators have suggested they do), he may want to woo them with a vice-presidential nominee of impeccable credentials among social conservatives.

Who fits the bill? South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, or even former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee all are strong Southern leaders who are well-respected in the GOP’s social conservative community.

Addressing Issue # 1: The Economy

McCain has admitted that his expertise is not on economic issues. As the economy continues to stall, and as voters claim that solutions to America’s economic ills are their number one issue this election, McCain may want to select a vice-president with strong credentials as a leader in dealing with economic challenges.

Who Fits the Bill? Again, Governor Mitt Romney from Massachusetts staked his case for the Presidency on his experience as a business leader and his efficient leadership of Massachusetts through an era of economic growth. It wasn’t enough to earn the presidential nod from his party—but it might be enough for vice-president. Dark Horse candidates in this category include Steve Forbes (business executive, proponent of the flat tax, and past candidate for the Republican presidential nomination), former Ohio Representative and current Bush head of the Budget Office, Rob Portman, and former Ohio Congressman and current Fox News Television host, John Kasich.

Making History

No matter what happens in the Democratic party from here on out, McCain will be facing a historic opponent—either a woman or a black man, who both bring with them a surging sense of hope and possibility as Democratic voters are sensing a historic moment of change come November 2008. How can McCain match this historic surge and avoid being seen as the tired, old white man representing outdated politics? One strategy is to nominate a historic vice-president; someone able to match Democratic excitement with exciting precedent-setting candidates on the GOP side.

Who Fits the Bill? All across the TV news shows and constantly fueling talk radio is the chatter that McCain’s best choice for Veep would be Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Rice would be a dramatic and historic choice (the nation’s first black woman on a major ticket for the President). She is a well-respected leader who carries a sense of “gravitas” needed in Presidential candidates. Excitement over this precedent-setting choice might help blunt the Democrats’ claim that their party is the only one representing important change and new faces in politics. To view some interesting news clips about the possibility of a Rice vice-presidency, see:

Election Geography

Bottom line, for McCain to win, he has to win enough states in the Electoral College to win 270 electoral votes. Most states are predicted to line up safely within the Democratic or Republican columns (e.g., New York and California for the Dems, Texas and most of the South for the GOP), so the real task for McCain is to pick a candidate who will help him to win key states that could go either way—Democrat or Republican. Some of those key states include Ohio, Florida and Missouri (large and important swing states that have been close in recent elections), Colorado and New Mexico (Western states that have often voted Republican but that are trending Democrat) and Pennsylvania and Minnesota (traditional Democratic states, that Republicans believe might be trending to their party). Choosing a popular candidate from one of these states might insure that the state lines up in McCain’s column.

Who Fits the Bill? Popular Governor Charlie Crist, From Florida, might insure this key state votes for McCain. Former Ohio Members of Congress Rob Portman or John Kasich might swing this state into the GOP column. Governor Pawlenty from Minnesota is another short-lister, who would help the GOP build on the Minnesota momentum they may build after holding their party convention in that state.

Double-Down”: Playing to McCain’s Strengths

McCain has at least three important traits that he will sell as “strengths” to the voters this election year: 1) he is a moderate, able to work with both parties and rise beyond the ideological partisanship of core conservatives; 2) he is a national security and foreign policy expert, able to be trusted in this time of war; 3) he is a ground-breaking maverick, not beholden to any established party and willing to speak his mind freely without insider political calculation. One strategy for choosing a vice president is to choose someone who matches one or more of these strengths—so as to even more strongly present these strengths to the voters. Bill Clinton (from Arkansas) did something like this in 1992, when he choose another southerner (Al Gore, from Tennessee) as his running mate. Clinton gave up geographic diversity on his ticket, but he calculated that a Democratic ticket made up of two southerners might be able to win a few southern states from the Republicans and put them on the defensive.

Who fits the Bill?

To build on McCain’s strengths as moderate, he might consider leaders like General Colin Powell or Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. These choices might not make social conservatives in the GOP happy, but it might help McCain to aggressively compete for “middle-of-the-road” swing voters, denying them to the Democrats.

To build on his national security expertise, McCain might want to consider Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice—which would certainly tie him irrevocably to defending how the Iraq War has been waged—even from the very start, but would also give him an unbeatable ticket in terms of foreign policy and national security expertise. Another good choice would be General David Petraeus, a well-respected military leader credited with recent successes in Iraq and with credible distance from Bush’s early strategic failures in Iraq—since he wasn’t in command back then.

To build on his reputation as a maverick, and to really shake the party establishments up, McCain might even consider the “maverick” choice of Independent Senator (and former Democrat) Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Such a choice would be shocking (Lieberman was Gore’s running –mate in 2000, against Bush), but Lieberman is a moderate in the McCain mold and is good friends with McCain. Lieberman also might help McCain win a state or two in the Northeast (Lieberman is from Connecticut). If nothing else, such a choice would receive tremendous press attention and would cement McCain’s reputation as a mold-shattering maverick. It would be a risky move. Voters may or may not like it; Republican party true-believers would likely be appalled.

Veepstakes 2008: And the Winner Is?

The list of possible picks goes on and on from here, McCain has certainly considered dozens and dozens of candidates by now. We know the kinds of considerations McCain must think of when coming to his decision—but predicting his final choice from among the dozens of good candidates is highly unlikely. But still….political veepstakes are fun, and I will now finally tell you who it is that McCain will pick for his running mate—or at least narrow it down to one of four.

McCain’s top priority has to be winning the election. Period. To do that, especially since he is running against a strong Democratic wind and widespread predictions of Republican disaster in 2008, McCain has to above all else focus on the Electoral College math. He needs a path to eking out a narrow victory in the Electoral College, because there will be no national landslide or widespread mandate for the GOP this year. To achieve his narrow victory, based on winning just enough states to get by, McCain MUST hold on to the key states of Florida and Ohio. Both were narrowly won by Bush in his narrow election victories of 2000 and 2004, and if either had went Democrat, Bush would have lost in either year.

Understanding the importance of holding on to these states, McCain will choose Florida Governor Charlie Christ


Florida Governor Charlie Crist (photo: wptv.com)

A second good geography choice would be charismatic Fox News Personality and former Ohio Representative John Kasich. One of these two men is likely to land on the ticket. (Rob Portman of Bush’s Budget Office is also from Ohio—but he doesn’t have the charisma, cache, or name-recognition of Kasich.)

John Kasich

Former OH Representative, John Kasich (photo: johnkasich.com)

If McCain doesn’t go for the electoral geography strategy for winning the Presidency, he would be well advised to “double-down” on his foreign policy/national security strengths and strive to make this election all about foreign policy and Iraq. It is hard to see the Republican candidate ever being able to win if the election is about domestic issues and faltering economy—so McCain has to do all he can to shift voters’ attention to Obama’s woeful lack of foreign policy experience (assuming Obama will receive the Democratic nod, which I do) and to make foreign affairs the dominant campaign theme. One way to do this is to chose a dramatic vice presidential nominee who would help dominate the news coverage and force attention away from domestic affairs and onto international matters.

The two best choices for the “Double-Down strategy”: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

condi rice

Sec of State Condoleeza Rice (photo http://www.global.net)

or General David Petraeus,perhaps the most respected military leader in Iraq affairs and the one who voters most credit with strategic success do to the “surge” in troops.


Gov. David Petraeus

Should McCain Go All-In?

On second thought, forget “Double-Down”: Rice or Petraeus is a McCain “All-In” on the issue of national security an foreign policy. All eyes would then turn to the American voters—unwilling to trust the newcomer Obama with all their chips, would they take a deep breath and then push all-in with McCain and his military sidekick?