Much of the news media is reporting that Barack Obama is pulling away from John McCain ... and suggesting that, because of low expectations, Sarah Palin need only get through tonight's debate without accidentally endorsing Obama in order to be successful. Put the two together, and it's hard to avoid the suspicion that the media is more than ready to push a McCain-Palin "comeback" narrative -- and, consciously or not, to help that comeback along.
Don't believe that kind of thing happens? Here's Brian Williams and Howard Fineman, in a September 21, 2000 exchange:
HOWARD FINEMAN: The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore. And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin - when he's ahead especially I think - talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class. I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial trilateral commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.
We want a race I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.
Because they make the media do (even more) foolish things. Paging Politico.
Headline: "Psychics: Stars not aligned for Palin"
[Elizabeth] Joyce, whose website claims she was "born with the authentic gift of psychic ability," was one of a handful of prominent psychics Politico surveyed to get a better "sense" of how the Palin-Biden matchup might shake out. According to their occult minds, Biden has the edge and, ominously, the moon and stars are not aligned in Palin's favor.
Joe Biden "has benefited from resources and relationships not available to average Americans."
And yes, that's an A1 story today.
Instead of adopting the ready GOP strategy of bashing it. NPR examines the gamble the McCain camp took.
Steven Pearlstein piles on the disdain regarding the unfolding financial crisis:
Other than not really understanding the problem and not really having studied the proposal, you guys are doing just great! Thank God there is a mainstream media out there that actually does reporting and has people who understand thing, because if the flow of information and news to the American people were left solely to bloggers, we'd be in a big mess.
Yes, thank God the mainstream media cast such a skeptical eye on Wall Street over the years. We can't thank Pearlstein's pals enough.
During the 2000 campaign, New York Times reporter Katharine Seelye promoted the image of Al Gore as a liar and exaggerator -- and she did so by making up things that he never said, then explaining that they weren't true.
This morning, Seeyle posted a preview of tonight's VP debate on the Times blog The Caucus. In it, she outlined what she'll be "watching for," both generally and for each candidate. Given her previous obsession with falsehoods and exaggerations, and given Sarah Palin's well-documented penchant for both, you might assume Seeyle would mention the danger for Palin in saying something that isn't true, or in exaggerating her record.
Wrong. Seeyle didn't devote so much as a single word to the possibility that Palin might say something incorrect or unduly self-aggrandizing. Apparently, that isn't as important to Seelye as the crucial question of whether Biden will "help Ms. Palin with her chair."
Never content to let political events unfold on their own, the press seems obsessed with reminding us, ad nauseam, just how important the Next Big Thing is.
After last week proclaiming 100 million people were going to watch the first presidential debate (a Chuck Todd prediction that was only off by 46 million), the press goes right back to the hype game for Thursday's VP forum:
"Probably the most-anticipated vice presidential faceoff ever." (AP)
"Probably the most anticipated vice presidential debate ever." (Chicago Tribune)
"The most anticipated vice presidential debate in history." (San Francisco Chronicle)
"The most anticipated vice presidential debate in history." (Newsweek)
"What may be the most anticipated vice presidential debate in history." (Politico)
How should tonight's showdown be described? Seems washingtonpost.com got it right when it dropped the breathless hype in favor of actual journalism: "Tonight's heavily anticipated debate."
See, that's not so difficult.
And if not, why is he treated him like one this week?
That's the excellent question posed at CJR. It comes in the wake of Sarah Palin's appearance on the conservative talk show host's syndicated program where she dutifully fielded a series of GOP softball questions.
Lots of journalists cited the Palin interview and even posted extensive transcripts online. But as CJR noted:
There is zero journalistic value in Hewitt's interview. There isn't even the illusion of critical distance, of healthy skepticism, of intellectually honest inquiry, of some sense that it is crucial to deeply sound out this person who wants to lead our nation at such a perilous time on what she would bring to the table.
Yet very few reporters pointed that out. Instead, they seemed to treat the Palin Q&A as a newsworthy event. Here's why that's trouble:
If you're going to call attention to Hewitt's work, why not go the extra step and label it what is? Otherwise, you risk giving Hewitt's hackery the imprimatur of real journalism.