For months, CNN's Howard Kurtz has been one of the loudest mainstream media voices accusing his fellow press members of being disgracefully in the tank for presumptive Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama.
On Sunday, Kurtz continued his finger-pointing by accurately stating, as it pertains to the focus on the junior senator's trip to the Middle East, "the media in general, not just the networks, are -- seem to me to be covering Obama as if he were already president."
In fact, this was basically the theme for the first segment of Sunday's "Reliable Sources" on CNN:
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Sometimes the big, sprawling, undisciplined beast we call the media have an impact just by showing up, the cameras magnifying everything in their view. Now, Barack Obama's overseas trip was always going to be a journalistic sensation, but the Illinois senator's campaign wasn't taking any chances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COURIC: By the way, I'll be reporting next week from the Middle East. We'll have the first one-on-one interview with Senator Obama.
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KURTZ: Actually CBS' Lara Logan getting the first one-on-one interview today. But by dangling the offer of exclusive interviews with the candidate, exclusive for one night a piece, that is, the Obama team persuaded Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams to trek halfway around the world to cover this trip. What that means, of course, is that the "CBS Evening News," "NBC Nightly News" and ABC's "World News" will be broadcast from Europe and the Middle East this week, throwing an even brighter spotlight on Barack's excellent adventure.
John McCain, meanwhile, was accompanied by zero anchors on his three foreign trips since wrapping up the Republican nomination in March. And that has the pundits debating whether the sheer volume of airtime and ink is tilting rather dramatically in Obama's direction.
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BERNARD GOLDBERG, FOX NEWS: If needed any more proof, Bill, that the networks were on the Barack Obama campaign team, this is it.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: What's the point if all three are there? Where's the differentiation. Going to be a different take on how much they love Senator Obama?
TONY BLANKLEY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: How can you not cover this event? This is going to be one of the great world media events.
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC ANALYST: And the Obama campaign coverage is going to be 5-1 to what McCain gets. I mean, the inequity of this thing is really...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's bizarre.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, is this trip going to be covered as if President Obama were visiting world capitals?
Joining us now in New York, Michael Crowley, senior editor of "The New Republic." And here in Washington, Martha Raddatz, ABC's chief White House correspondent. And David Frum, columnist for "National Review Online" and a former speechwriter for President Bush.
Martha Raddatz, from the moment I broke the story about the three network anchors going, there's been criticism that your network and CBS and NBC are just getting on the Obama bandwagon.
As Raddatz didn't add much to the discussion at this instance, let's fast forward a bit:
KURTZ: David Frum, the media in general, not just the networks, are -- seem to me to be covering Obama as if he were already president.
DAVID FRUM, COLUMNIST, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Right. Well, just in defense of the networks, I'd have to say, compare to the news weeklies, they're paragons of objectivity.
There's no question he's benefiting from enormously favorable publicity. I think two things come into focus here.
One is the big media's inherent partisan bias for the Democratic Party. That's always a factor. And that fuses then with their ideological bias in favor of the first African-American candidate. That is, if there's anything that the media organizations believe in as institutions, they practice affirmative action internally, probably more enthusiastically than almost any corporations in America. This is a core ideological commitment for...
KURTZ: Boy. Are you saying that the media are treating Barack Obama as an affirmative action hire for the presidency?
FRUM: That they are very excited about the prospect of the first African-American candidate, serious candidate for president. And that's to some degree understandable. It's also a major ideological commitment. Combined with their partisan commitment in favor of the Democratic Party, or bias in favor of the Democratic Party, it creates this storm. It should be said, however, it is not necessarily going to help him because I think viewers are very sophisticated and they can sense they're being sold.
KURTZ: Michael Crowley, often these trips are about the picture, so early this morning our time you had Barack Obama meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. No questions from reporters, no sound there, but everybody gets to play the video. He looks very presidential. You also have Obama meeting with the troops.
So how can it not help Obama when everyone is clamoring to run what are essentially these photo-ops?
Readers should prepare themselves for some shameless sycophancy from Crowley:
MICHAEL CROWLEY, SR. EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Well, I think Martha made the right point. I mean, the photo-ops, the staged events, are clearly going to be very helpful for him. And I think that, therefore, there is an obligation on the part of these media stars who are flocking there to ask him tough questions. I mean, that should be the tradeoff.
I think David, respectfully, I would say, like many conservatives, overstates the ideological and partisan bias at work. I think this is just a great story.
When McCain goes overseas, it's sort of dog bites man. There's not really that much of an interesting angle to it. This is an incredible story, the first African-American nominee going abroad after a long period of anti-Americanism, promising a new start and a new direction for the country. There's so many fascinating angles, whereas McCain is sort of offering somewhat more of a continuation of what we already know. So it's just a great story, but I would say that if the media are going to give Obama this platform and this pretty easy photo-op opportunity, they have an obligation in any sit-down interviews to really press him on the sort of soft points of his policy, things he hasn't delineated sufficiently.
FRUM: Very briefly, John McCain went to Ottawa and then Mexico City, back-to-back, to defend free trade in the face of polls showing that the American public has soured on trade deals, and in the face of a Democratic candidate who has campaigned as probably the most explicitly protectionist candidate since Walter Mondale in 1984.
Now, that is an act of tremendous political courage. It actually advances the story. It sharpens the contradictions. Everything you would think media would like -- one man against the system, intensification of conflict, and yet it did not rate (ph) his story, his powerful defense NAFTA in the capitals of America's important trading partners.
KURTZ: Well, I started fulminating about that trip. ABC sent a correspondent. CNN did not. No anchors went.
How can that imbalance be fair?
MARTHA RADDATZ, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Well, first of all, let's talk about what John McCain has made a focus of his campaign, and that is national security, that is Iraq, that is Afghanistan. And he also is one the people who said Barack Obama has not been over there for years.
So, Barack Obama goes over there, and John McCain is back here wishing he had that coverage. Now, he has to figure out a way to seize that national security agenda again, to say this is my strongest suit here. And...
KURTZ: But he can seize anything he wants if he is traveling with fewer correspondents, with no anchors...
KURTZ: And we all know what happens when anchors travel.
RADDATZ: No -- yes, we do.
KURTZ: It means that you get bumped up to the top of the broadcast, and it seems like a very big deal.
RADDATZ: Yes. Yes, there's no question about that. And I think the McCain campaign really does have to try to figure out how to get this back, how to get that national security agenda back and have people look at John McCain as the candidate who they trust.
KURTZ: Michael Crowley, liberal pundits sometimes talk about the media's love affair with John McCain. Certainly, there was a lot of that coziness in his 2000 presidential run. But now I would say they're cheating on him. They don't want to hang out with him anymore.
Once again, readers better prepare themselves for some shameless sycophancy as Crowley blames the media's love affair with Obama on -- wait for it -- McCain:
CROWLEY: You know, I'm glad you mentioned that, because I was going to jump in and say this, that there's a great irony here. I mean, it's sort of -- it's sort of amazing to hear the McCain campaign, people around John McCain, say, you know, the press isn't interested in us, we can't get your attention, because you were probably doing similar shows a few years ago where McCain's rivals were complaining that he was getting this cushy treatment. And it drives him absolutely crazy. But I think this is a function of McCain having been around for a long time, and I think he feels like a familiar story to major media reporters.
They just feel like there's not that much more that's new to say about him. And, you know, it's driving them up the wall, but I don't know how -- what he can do about it.
RADDATZ: You know what else is happening here, too? And the thing that I -- why I think it is so important with those anchors and reporters who are with Senator Obama ask tough questions, is these are really complex issues. And what you get this week is precisely that, those pictures with the troops.
He's there. Is he a leader? Is he a foreign leader? Can he do this?
We cannot let that be the whole story. We just can't. They have to be tough questions. It is a complicated issue.
You saw the White House talk about time horizons on Friday. What does that exactly mean? You saw Maliki talk about that with a German magazine and say...
KURTZ: Let me come back to that.
KURTZ: Let me ask David Frum, because it's interesting. John McCain, like most Republicans, opposes the old government rule called the Fairness Doctrine, mandating equal time for different views. But at the same time, his tough strategist Charlie Black came out and said the networks that are sending these anchors on Obama's trip should give McCain equal time. Not a government mandate. He's really saying they have a moral responsibility.
Is that a good argument?
FRUM: Well, I think it's a very good argument. We say this all the time, that the president will go on TV and say parents should spend time reading to their children. That if he passed a law requiring you to read to the children, that would be pretty totalitarian in the same way that you can recognize an ethical and professional imperative in journalism without making it into the law of the land.
KURTZ: You know -- go ahead, Michael.
Once again, you better get prepared for some more Crowley inanities:
CROWLEY: Howie, it's also just an imperfect science here. I mean, you know, think back to maybe 2001, 2002. Liberals were going crazy because every time George Bush so much as sneezed, it got wall- to-wall live coverage. Democrats felt like they couldn't get a word in edgewise.
I mean, it's just the nature of the beast that there are these swings, that people get this sometimes excessive coverage. I don't know how you fix it, but I do agree there's a responsibility to try to balance it out. My point is just that it's not like the shoe hasn't been on the other foot in the recent past.
Luckily, Kurtz recognized the stupidity of Crowley's comment, and pointed it out:
KURTZ: Right. But look, the president of the United States owns the megaphone, always gets more coverage. Here we have two people who are running to be president. And the question is, can there be some balance.
But there's one aspect that we haven't quite gotten to. A couple of commentators brought it up in recent interviews. Let me roll that and we'll talk about it on the other side.
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JAY CARNEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: The complaint is legitimate, although it's, in a sense, market-driven. It's driven by reader interest and viewer interest.
ELLIS HENICAN, "NEWSDAY": The deeper reality here is that one campaign this year has been really, really interesting, and the other's been a snoozer. I don't believe in affirmative action for journalism. Let's cover what's interesting, huh?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Martha Raddatz, the imbalance is justified because Obama is a more interesting story.
RADDATZ: I don't find that. I just don't find that.
I mean, it is our responsibility to try to find a way to cover this fairly. It truly is. And we have to do this.
I know we ask ourselves questions about this all the time -- are we doing this fairly? Are we giving McCain a chance?
It's also, as I said before, the campaigns have to rise to this as well. This is a test. This is a test about how you govern. The campaign is part of that.
FRUM: It also should be said that that statement you quoted, which is from admittedly a left-wing person, is itself an amazing confession of bias. I mean, if you listen to what Barack Obama says...
KURTZ: All my friends think Barack Obama's more interesting.
FRUM: Barack Obama is one of the most -- maybe he used to be interesting, but in this campaign he's been one of the most boring candidates ever. Content-free speeches, (INAUDIBLE).
Meanwhile, in contrast -- and if, by the way, the shoe were on the other foot, every journalist in America would see it. Here you have one of the -- the oldest men ever to run for president, winning his party's nomination against the odds through sheer hard work and tenacity, and getting up earlier and campaigning harder than men 20 years his junior? That's a pretty exciting story.
KURTZ: And triumphing over many conservative pundits who did not want John McCain...
KURTZ: ... to be the GOP nominee.
Michael Crowley, get in on this. David Frum says that this idea that Obama is more fascinating, therefore deserves more coverage, represents the epitome of liberal bias.
Crowley stupidity warning:
CROWLEY: Again, well, I don't think it's liberal bias. I do agree with the diagnosis that I think he's a more interesting story. I think David makes a good case for why people should be more interested in McCain, but the reality is, I just don't think it flies.
I mean, even Obama has trimmed his sails and is being a little more cautious in what he says, he brings out this interest in other people because you have sort of identity politics around him, which is just so fascinating and unprecedented. But one more time I would say that the media's obligation is, if there's a great story here, I don't expect them not to cover it. This trip is fascinating. The obligation is to ask tough questions, give a lot of response time to McCain and his campaign surrogates, and let this be a really informative -- an opportunity for an informative debate and discussion for people to actually learn something about American foreign policy and not just a pageant and a photo-op.
Marvelously, Kurtz ended this segment with the truth about this matter:
KURTZ: Well, we'll have a report card on that on next week's show. But let me give you my two cents.
When you have one candidate whose trip is covered by the three anchors, and the other candidate, whose foreign travels are barely covered, when you have one candidate who gets twice as much airtime on the network evening newscasts since early June, since the Democratic contest was over -- that being Obama versus McCain -- when you have one candidate, Barack Obama, on the cover of "Rolling Stone" with his wife on "US Weekly," with his family on "Access Hollywood," and when you have one candidate, Barack Obama, getting more than twice as many covers, "TIME" and "Newsweek," then John McCain -- and just look at some. We pulled out some "Newsweek" covers here.
Look. Obama. Obama. Obama.
It's a small picture. Obama. Obama. At that point, there is clearly an imbalance. The sheer volume becomes an imbalance. And I think that we have inadvertently or otherwise put our thumb on the scale and there could be a big backlash against news organizations if this trend continues.
Well, Howard, to a certain extent there already has been a backlash because of this as measured by declining subscription rates at the major newspapers. How much worse things get for mainstream outlets remains to be seen.
Regardless, huge kudos go out to Kurtz for continuing to hold his colleagues' feet to the fire on this issue.
Bravo, Howard. Bravo.