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Hillary is the New Gore

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Tina Fey, guest-hosting Saturday Night Live last weekend, endorsed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama during the faux news segment ("Weekend Update") with the clever line, "Bitch is the new Black."

Fey's routine, and the show's opening debate skit, spoofed how mainstream journalists have treated Clinton with the disdain that comes with familiarity, while falling all over themselves to lick the boots of the new kid on the block.

In truth, the media's coverage in this primary campaign actually has a recent antecedent. It's quite reminiscent of their work during the 2000 general election race between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Eight years ago, Gore was the prominent vice president and former senator, up against a relatively unknown state governor of just six years.

Gore couldn't catch a break to save his soul. Everything was overly and harshly scrutinized, from the way he *sighed* during the debates to his supposed wardrobe malfunctions orchestrated by his "guru" Naomi Wolf. He was "a know-it-all" who had answers and plans for everything.

It didn't matter that he'd never claimed to be the inventor of the internet, the so-called liberal media devoted countless hours and column inches to dissecting every perceived weakness, no matter how insignificant and meaningless.

Bush, on the other hand, was characterized as a laconic, likable fella who you'd want to have a beer with at a backyard cook-out. Or so we were told ad nauseam, even though Gore went on to win the popular vote nationwide while losing the electoral vote, the first time that had happened since 1888.

So what if Bush frequently came up short on the important stuff that should matter to an informed electorate? The big names in the Washington press corps, who enjoy their permanent station in life and access within the corridors of power, had established the meme, and the two candidates were along for the ride.

Don't misunderstand the analogy: Obama is no Bush (who needed Karl Rove's brain). I'm comparing Clinton to what Gore endured at the hands of a Fourth Estate attracted to the fresh face.

At the Democratic debate Tuesday in Cleveland, NBC's Tim Russert decided to change the paradigm, if only for one night. He was going to come out swinging at both of them. Result? He leaned forward in that classic Russert "chief inquisitor" posture, and asked Obama about....wait for it....his unsolicited endorsement from Louis Farrakhan!

Huh? Louis Farrakhan? When did he become an issue in this election? Or in this century?

Obama easily swatted away that silly question. If that's an example of being equally tough, let's go back to Keith Olbermann's nightly hagiography of the Illinois senator. At least that's entertaining.

When Clinton mentioned during the debate that she usually gets the first question, she clearly meant "on each topic," not "the first question of the night." Yet the post-debate analysis by most of cable TV's talking heads was about who got the first question in each debate. They totally mischaracterized her fair criticism, but they happily ran with it.

In truth, as lawyer Dan Abrams pointed out on his MSNBC program the night after the debate, she's gotten the first question to start most of the debates as well as the first question on each topic during the debates. Dan noted that it's always preferable to go second because you can listen to your opponent's answer and marshal the best possible response/comeback.

Is it churlish to "blame the media" for a losing campaign? You bet. Are they the reason she's losing? Of course not. No apparent plan past Super Tuesday and no plan for the onerous caucus system is seeing to that.

Anyway, you can't win by blaming the millionaires who comprise the media elite, but they sometimes remind me of the old Mexican proverb: a burro with money on its back is still a burro.

There are reasons to oppose Clinton and support Obama, and vice versa. Yet there is an observable distinction by fair-minded people between the two candidates' treatment post Iowa. The national press isn't unbiased when it comes to the Democrats, and they shouldn't pretend otherwise.

They have a preference. Even SNL has picked up on it.

UPDATE: Democrats across the country feel the same. According to the Saturday, March 1 New York Times, "a New York Times/CBS News telephone poll conducted Feb. 20-24 and released this past Tuesday {reveals that} nearly half of those respondents who described themselves as voters in Democratic primaries or caucuses said the news media had been 'harder' on Mrs. Clinton than other candidates. Only about 1 in 10 suggested the news media had been harder on Mr. Obama."