Final Notes On The John McCain News Hunt

06/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here are our final observations on our June 2-9 News Hunt on John McCain, as well as some first highlights on this week's News Hunt on Media and Politics.

McCain News Hunt Final Results

For our McCain News Hunt we partnered with Huffington Post's OffTheBus project (see first results). A big thanks goes out to everyone here, especially Amanda Michel, who led the charge on their end and to Arianna Huffington, whose invitation to join us yielded so many participants.

OffTheBus founder Jay Rosen, blogged about our collaboration, noting: "One of the interesting things about the NewsTrust initiative is that is has both emergent and conservative ideas built into it. The news judgment of newsroom priests is dethroned. The people formerly known as the audience take over the "gate," as it were. But the virtues upheld--accuracy, fairness, evidence, proportion, decency, respect for our intelligence--are the old sturdy ones."

Since Jay did such a good job of discussing the highest and lowest rated stories we found on John McCain, based on their journalistic quality, I thought we might look at the stories from another angle.  To do so, I kept in mind an observation by Kelly Garrett, our advisor at the Ohio State University School of Communications, who emailed us a while back that some stories appeal to people with viewpoints on the right but not to those on the left (or vice versa), but that if both sides find merit, "that suggests that the story provided deep coverage of at least two sides of the debate."

Here then, are just five stories on Senator McCain from center-right sources which appealed to our new members from Off the Bus, along with a few of their comments. (As noted in our first results, 78% of new members who completed their profile identified with viewpoints on the left, while 17% identified with the center of the political spectrum.  All of the folks I've cited identified themselves as being on the left, unless I noted otherwise.)

1.  "Clearing the Field" by National Review's Michael Barone.

Social worker Deborah Plummer gave the story a 3.2 average rating and wrote:

This lie will not die, "Hillary Clinton carried the popular vote." Every time I see/read it, I'm thankful for the "Internet" for news and information. Otherwise, this article was well-written and [had] enough general information...about the general election to sustain the rating of "somewhat important" because of the following profound statement, which summarizes the article: '.... this looks like a presidential race unlike any other.

Steven Meyer, who "taught courses on the Presidency, Congress, Supreme Court, and Elections for ten years at the U.S. Air Force Academy while on active duty", said:

Barone argues persuasively this election will hinge on different combinations of key states that those familiar from 2000 and 2004. Both sides intend to lengthen the playing field, seriously competing in opposing color states and forcing the opposition to expend resources in supposedly safe states. He also illustrates the possible negation of the 'old rule' that hard economic conditions favor the Democrats, an observation backed by polling data and in a way I had not seen a national reporter advance as such before.

2. "The Unhappy Warrior" by Politico's Jonathan Martin

Kristin Gorski (no political viewpoint listed) wrote:

[I] recommend this story for two reasons: (1) it is a critique of mainstream media (and its coverage of McCain) by alternative media, which is a huge theme underpinning this election season (e.g., bloggers breaking big stories first), and (2) it attempts to look at McCain's temper, which could become his biggest campaign issue, from a balanced perspective. The article quotes many in McCain's camp, and their quotations are fascinating, as they seem to state pretty clearly that they know their candidate has to keep his cool or he'll lose the election. At the same time, it quotes a McCain "friend" (anonymous source) who provides insight into McCain's state of mind. I am so skeptical of anonymous "friend" sources -- it seems too tabloid, and this article, already quite compelling, would have been stronger if this anon. source had been omitted.

3. "Why Does the Michelle Obama Tape Rumor Match a 2006 Novel?" by the National Review's Jim Geraghty

Tom Maertens (who hasn't filled his profile yet) rates this blog post 3.5 and comments:

It is surprising that a conservative publication and a conservative blogger would be criticizing a Clinton supporter who has apparently fabricated a story about a videotape that could be devastating, if true, to Michelle Obama. But that is what this story is about.

4.  "Lead Senator" by the National Review's Andrew C. McCarthy

Michael Evelyn (hasn't filled his profile yet) wrote about this story is on McCain and warrantless wiretapping:

Revealing article. Want to know how Sen. McCain sets (flip-flops) his policy? He succumbs to pointed questions, pleas, and cajoling. This op-ed was a call for McCain to show his conservative bona-fides.

5. "In Energy Policy, McCain, Obama Differ on Role of Government" by the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Power

Harv Roth, a retired business owner, gave the story a 4.7 rating and commented:

In a factual article, the reporter compares John McCain and Barak Obama's plans for a new Energy Policy. The Republican view is to not use the governments power to legislate or command industry to do anything. Even though he professes that change is needed little is done to cause that change. Obama's plan would use the government to control more of the Energy scene. Nuclear energy, energy credits, ethanol tax incentives, coal transference to liquid form. All of these are discussed with alternate views by the candidates.

Media and Politics News Hunt

This week, we're conducting a News Hunt on Media and Politics, in partnership with the Poynter Institute and PolitiFact (a joint project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quaterly.) We're looking for good journalism on how the news media are covering the presidential campaign -- and how this coverage shapes American attitudes towards candidates and issues.

For our first highlight from that News Hunt, I'd like to point to one PolitiFact story which is getting high ratings from all points along the political spectrum. In "Rating confusion: Is Obama a liberal?" PolitiFact's Bill Adair writes,

The political magazine National Journal rated Obama the most liberal senator for 2007, while Congressional Quarterly calculated that Obama voted with Bush 40 to 50 percent over the past two years. ... McCain's seemingly contradictory claims illustrate the limitations of congressional ratings. Although they can provide a quick snapshot of someone's voting record, the ratings have many shortcomings...

Our long-time member, Roland Hirsch (who did not fill his profile, but writes that he considers President Bush "a moderate") rates the story 3.9 and comments:

This news analysis has considerable journalistic merit. It distinguishes between ratings based upon party affiliation and those based on philosophical positions, such as liberal or conservative (however the authors ignore the fact that these are not opposites but orthogonal to each, measuring different things).

Meanwhile, Off the Bus member Denise Clendening, an environmental scientist affiliated with the Democratic Party and, writes:

Another informative story from PolitiFact, full of facts and great links on what ratings mean and how they are calculated. This page will be very helpful in responding to talking points and interpreting what the ratings mean. It was interesting to read how many votes Obama missed last year (33 out of 99) due to campaigning and McCain missed so many that the magazine that gave Obama the liberal rating could not give McCain an overall rating. Great resource.

And Off the Bus member Jeff Clark, who lists no political viewpoint, finds the article excellent and informative and raises this interesting question about media and politics:

"How is it that an allegedly nonpartisan 'news source' National Journal, branded Kerry and Obama as more 'liberal' than Feingold, Kennedy, Boxer, and the socialist Sanders? Such labeling tells us little about the Senators and much more about the Journal's perceived need to stay in the shmoozy Washington media game by providing 'news' that can be fodder for attacks.

A big thanks to all of you, whether on the left, in the center or on the right, who want NewsTrust to remain true to its mission to find quality journalism across the political spectrum. The best way for us to do this is to submit stories from a variety of sources, invite new members from across party lines and to strive to be civil and constructive by

  • putting our own politics aside and writing reviews based on jounalist values; and
  • rating other members based on the helpfulness of the reviews, not whether they agree with our own points of view.

We're glad that so many of the new members from Off the Bus have stayed
with us following the June 9 wrapup of our News Hunt on John McCain. We
hope many of our members, old and new, will continue to join us in this
week's news hunt on Media and Politics.

Beth Wellington, NewsTrust Community Developer