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On the March 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN host and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said that until a recent story about unpaid parking tickets, presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "had been getting the most glorious press coverage perhaps in the history of the republic. I mean, the press just acted like this guy walked on water." Kurtz has repeatedly noted what he claims is the fawning treatment Obama gets from the media, but he has not made similar comments about the coverage of the leading Republican presidential candidate, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Indeed, Kurtz himself has recently used the labels that appear in positive profiles of Giuliani, including 9-11 "hero."
Contrary to Kurtz's account, Obama has frequently been the subject of baseless and trivial allegations:
- On the March 7 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer teased a report on Obama's purchase of stock in two companies whose investors included donors to his 2004 Senate campaign by asking, "Did the Democratic presidential candidate cash in on his relationship with some big political donors?" even though that same report said that Obama sold the stock at a net loss of $13,000, as Media Matters for America noted.
- On March 7, MSNBC News Live host Contessa Brewer suggested that Obama's purchase of the stock was a "scandal," as Media Matters noted. Neither Brewer nor her guest, Newsweek senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe, noted that The New York Times, whose article Brewer cited, reported, "There is no evidence that any of [Obama's] actions ended up benefiting either company during the roughly eight months that he owned the stocks."
- In a March 7 entry to his washingtonpost.com weblog, The Fix, Washington Post staff writer Chris Cillizza wrote: "For the second time since signaling his plans to run for president, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is battling allegations of ethical misjudgment." Cillizza was referring to the March 7 New York Times article concerning Obama's stock purchase and a November 1, 2006, Chicago Tribune article highlighting a 2005 land deal between Obama and Chicago fundraiser Antoin Rezko. As Media Matters noted, contrary to Cillizza's claim, the Times article did not contain any "allegation of ethical misjudgment," and the Post itself reported, in an article to which Cillizza linked, that there "have been no allegations that Obama ... broke the law or committed any ethics violations" in the land deal.
- On the February 19 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson claimed that Obama's faith has become "suddenly conspicuous" -- suggesting that Obama has only recently begun addressing his religious background as part of "a very calculated plan on the part of the Democratic Party to win" religious voters in the 2008 presidential race, as Media Matters noted. Similarly, on the February 7 edition of Tucker, Carlson criticized Obama for belonging to a church Carlson claimed "sounds separatist to me" and "contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity," a subject Carlson said he was "actually qualified to discuss."
- In a February 9 entry on the Times political weblog The Caucus, reporter Kate Phillips linked to Politico chief political correspondent Mike Allen's February 9 article on Obama, excerpting a section in which, as Media Matters documented, Allen falsely suggested that Obama has been dishonest about the origin of his name, asking, "Why has he sometimes said his first name is Arabic, and other times Swahili?"
- On January 17, InsightMag.com published an article claiming that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) disclosed that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." As Media Matters documented, a CNN report flatly disproved the Obama-madrassa allegation, but as The New York Times reported in a January 29 article, the InsightMag.com article "was able to set off a wave of television commentary, talk-radio chatter, official denials, investigations by journalists around the globe and news media self-analysis that has lasted 11 days and counting."
Media Matters has documented other similar media coverage of Obama.
Kurtz's statement on the Situation Room is part of a pattern of discussing what Kurtz calls "glowing" coverage of Obama. He wrote in a February 20 washingtonpost.com online chat: "Barack Obama has gotten perhaps the most glowing coverage of any presidential candidate in four decades. Even his swimsuit coverage (this is the paparazzi shot that ran in People) has been positive!" On the February 18 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Kurtz said that Obama has gotten "coverage that has ranged from glowing to worshipful."
In the February 20 online chat, Kurtz acknowledged that Giuliani had avoided close media scrutiny, saying it was the result of the media not being "convinced that Rudy was actually going to run." In a March 5 online chat, Kurtz said that "there is a long list of controversies stemming from his two terms as mayor, and all of this will be aired in the campaign." But since Giuliani announced his plan to run for president, he has continued to receive positive coverage:
- In a cover story for Newsweek's March 12 issue, senior writer and political correspondent Jonathan Darman baselessly asserted that "[i]t is hard to imagine" Giuliani "botching the response to Katrina in the way President Bush did," without noting the flaws critics have cited in Giuliani's supervision of the post-9-11 cleanup. Darman also asserted as fact that Giuliani is "America's Mayor" and is "heroic," as Media Matters noted.
- CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, on the March 1 edition of the CBS Evening News, and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, on the March 1 edition of NBC's Today, both portrayed Giuliani's 9-11 actions as an unmitigated asset for him, as Media Matters noted.
- On the March 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews touted Giuliani as a "hero," saying that Southerners "can't spell his name necessarily, but they know Rudy was a hero," as Media Matters noted.
- In a February 15 Politico article on how "Republican presidential campaigns are suddenly giving" California voters "intense attention," chief political correspondent Mike Allen cast Republican presidential candidates Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Giuliani as "candidates with moderate images in the mold of" California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Media Matters noted.
Moreover, Kurtz has himself lauded Giuliani. In his February 6 online column, Kurtz said Giuliani's "accomplishments are undeniable," and referred to him as "one of the heroes of 9/11."
From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the March 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
SUZANNE MALVEAUX (host): And, of course, coming up, another day and another story spotlighting Barack Obama.
Why the sudden increase in scrutiny? Is the honeymoon over for this presidential hopeful?
MARY SNOW (CNN correspondent): Suzanne, those parking tickets are just a sign that not many stones will be left unturned in the presidential race, as Senator Barack Obama gets put to the test.
[begin video clip]
SNOW: Is the honeymoon over between Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama and members of the press? You remember, those that kept referring to him as a political rock star?
ANITA DUNN (Democratic strategist): I would say, "Honeymoon ending, campaign beginning."
SNOW: Case in point, you probably didn't know that while he was a student at Harvard Law School, Obama had some unpaid parking tickets, dating back to 1988. A couple of weeks before announcing his run for president, he paid off the $375 he owed.
It's not something that's going to bring down his campaign, but it points to the intense level of scrutiny Obama now faces.
KURTZ: Barack Obama had been getting the most glorious press coverage perhaps in the history of the republic. I mean, the press just acted like this guy walked on water. And it was inevitable that once the investigative reporters started digging around that he would get a little bit wet.
SNOW: On Wednesday, Obama came to face questions about two stock investments he made in 2005.
OBAMA: At no point did I know what stocks were held.
SNOW: Earlier in the week, his campaign found itself explaining why Obama disinvited his pastor to his official presidential announcement in February.
Still, headlines like "Obama Mania" show the Illinois senator is far from being an embattled candidate. But the level of scrutiny is expected to only increase. Some political strategists say Obama could use it to his advantage.