Monday, July 21, 2008

McCaining the Media

The massive coverage of Barack Obama's overseas trip has led the McCain campaign and various voices on the right to complain of media favoritism toward Obama.

According to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Obama has been featured in 77% of the stories done between the end of the Democratic primaries and early July. There are far fewer stories on McCain.

Rush Limbaugh sees an effort to tilt the playing field toward Obama:
"My prediction is that the coverage of Obama on this trip will be oriented toward countering the notion he has no idea what he is talking about on foreign policy and defense issues and instead will prop him up as a qualified statesman . . . McCain, on the other hand, is a known quantity on these issues and his position does not excite nor fit the mainstream media's narrative on Iraq and Afghanistan, so they simply ignore it and him."

Unlike most observers on the left, I view Limbaugh as an extremely perceptive observer of the media and Democratic Party politics.

But Limbaugh's mistaken here.

Before Obama got into the air, the basic media narrative of his overseas trip was that Obama was playing defense in the face of criticism from the McCain campaign. McCain had been taking the initiative by challenging Obama to travel with him to Iraq and hold as many as ten townhall meetings. McCain was also aggressive in calling for overturning bans on offshore drilling for oil and attacking Obama's ideas on negotiating with Iran and withdrawing from Iraq as naive and ideological.

In the context of McCain's aggressive criticism, the media has been portraying Obama as "on the defensive," "dogged by criticism" and "boxed in" by McCain on Iraq and other issues. For example, the Kansas City Star framed one of their stories on Obama's patriotism by emphasizing the extent to which he was "dogged by criticism" for not wearing a flag pin in his lapel. Likewise, an ABC story by Jake Tapper was headlined "The Success of the Surge Seemingly Puts Obama on the Defensive." The same was the case with Dick Morris and Eileen McGann column for the New York Post which was headlined "The Way to Box in Barack on Iraq."

Contrary to Rush Limbaugh, the basic media narrative has been that McCain on offense/Obama on defense.

That doesn't mean that all the puff stories from the network talking heads aren't going to help Obama. But the question is not whether the current success of Obama's trip is going to confirm media bias toward Obama, but whether the trip is going to change the media narrative in Obama's favor.

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