Yesterday, Howard Kurtz reported that the three network anchors would be traveling overseas nextt week to cover Barack Obama's trip to Europe and the Middle East. In his report, he noted that none of Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric accompanied John McCain on his trip to Europe in March, nor his trip to South America a few weeks ago.
Today, the New York Times' Jim Rutenberg explores this difference a little further:
The extraordinary coverage planned for Mr. Obama's trip, though in part solicited by aides, reflects how the candidate remains an object of fascination in the news media, a built-in feature of being the first black presidential nominee for a major political party and a relative newcomer to the national stage.
But the coverage also feeds into concerns in Mr. McCain's campaign, and among Republicans in general, that the news media are imbalanced in their coverage of the candidates, just as aides to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton felt during the primary season.
Let's step back for a moment. Recall what was happening in March while McCain was in overseas: The thick of the Democratic primary — which would not end for three months — and, oh yes, the Jeremiah Wright scandal, followed by Obama's race speech on March 18th, which absolutely dominated the news cycle in that week. Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism estimated that it was the "significant or dominant factor" in 72% of campaign stories, with Clinton at 30% and McCain at 17%.
The speech dominated a big news week, too — on Monday, Bear Stearns had collapsed. Fini. On Tuesay, Obama gave his speech. On Wednesday, it was the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War. There was a lot going on.
That was the week that McCain was overseas — bad luck for him, but that's life. He didn't make much news while he was over there — except for his Sunni-Shia gaffe in Jordan, which also happened on March 18th, so he was damned lucky Obama's race speech was around to distract from it. Otherwise, the trip was meant to position him next to world leaders and pump-up his foreign policy credentials, and that's basically what was reported. Oh yeah, he had a fundraiser in London. Stop the presses!
You can't wish yourself into news, nor can you control what the media will focus on (just ask the Obama campaign after their debut of his faux Presidential seal, which will remain a punchline for the rest of the campaign. Yes, an Obama punchline! Dare to dream!). The fact is, Obama's trip is much bigger news than McCain's was.
Never mind that the McCain campaign was responsible for hyping the fact that Obama hadn't been recently to Iraq — the whole nature of Obama's trip is different. He's the Democratic nominee for president following eight years under George W. Bush, during which the international reputation of the United States took a major beating. Out in the world, the next president will have some serious fences to mend. McCain is the heir to Bush, whether he likes it or not — which means he's more of the same. Obama is different. To put it mildly.
Also: There will be some actual news on this trip. Obama was invited by the Mayor of Berlin to speak before the Brandenburg Gate, in an image that, if it happens, will evoke both John F. Kennedy ("Ich bin ein Berliner")and Ronald Reagan ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"). Come on. Now that's an irresistible image — and television trades in images. Adding to the fun, though, is a wrinkle from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reportedly isn't thrilled at the historic German monument being used as a campaign backdrop. Will Obama's grandiose plans for political stagecraft trigger an international incident? Details tonight at 6:30!
There's no doubt that Obama makes news differently than McCain or, formerly, Hillary Clinton. But there's a "fairness" difference in covering candidates equally and meticulously allotting them equal time and coverage, no matter what they happen to be doing. The first makes sense, and should be and overarching goal of every news organization. The second is ridiculous and shouldn't even be entertained. In order to make the news, you have to be newsworthy. True, running for president helps, but so does actually doing something worth noting.
p.s. Oh, my God, what is that behind Katie Couric's head in that photo above? Could it be....a NUT? Nooooo! Call the censors!!!!