Is the Press Helping Obama? It's Not That Simple.

01/07/2008 09:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We're being indundated by complaints from Bill Clinton and others that the media's unfairly helping Obama. Yes, coverage is very good for him right now. But before the victim card gets played too heavily, let's remember that the press made Hillary a front-runner by spending the past year promoting scripted Clinton notions like "inevitability." The media giveth, and the media taketh away.

There's no question that Hillary's been subjected to a lot of sexist, hostile, and even emotionally stunted coverage, while Obama's received more positive press on the personality front. But she was able to dominate the race (at least until Iowa) because journalists uncritically repeated ideas that were carefully planted by her campaign, i.e. that she was the overwhelming favorite for the nomination - or, to use her own campaign's word, the "incumbent." Obama and her other opponents spent the fall fighting against this prophecy's impact on endorsements and poll numbers.

The problem with "inevitability" is one Clinton and her strategists should have seen coming: the first time you hit a bump you lose the expectations game. That's Politics 101. To the extent that her campaign pushed this idea, they - and not the press - are responsible for their own sudden decline.

And uh-oh: Now look who's "inevitable." 12 out of 12 commentators on a news show the other night said that Obama would be the eventual nominee. That perception may help him, but it carries a lot of risks too.

If Clinton runs a decent second in New Hampshire she will try to spin it as a "win" - and the press, ever eager for an ongoing battle that will drive up ratings, may decide to help her. Edwards, who the press have shunned all along, may challenge him for the "change" vote. It's Obama who now carries the burden of media-anointed "inevitability," and remember: The media giveth ...

Hillary Clinton wasn't "inevitable" before last week, and she certainly hasn't lost now. Obama will still have a fight on his hands, even if she doesn't win New Hampshire. She's running unopposed in Michigan (Obama and Edwards declined to run after the party disqualified the primary), and there's still Super Tuesday. Pundits are the self-appointed referees of politics, and they're trying to call the game in the second quarter.

The media throws its bias in all directions, at least where Democrats are concerned. Someday they may stop handicapping electoral races and go back to just reporting them. But for now, press coverage will remain a gamble for candidates like Obama and Clinton - and the only sure loser is the public.