WaPo Tries to Explain Not Putting Huge Va. McCain Rally on Page One

On Sunday, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell noticed in passing an obvious example of front-page Obama favoritism in the Post. On Thursday, the huge McCain-Palin rally in suburban Fairfax, Virginia, with an estimated crowd of 23,000 reported in the story, was bizarrely placed on the front page of the Metro section. On June 6, the Post put an Obama rally in Virginia at the Nissan Pavilian concert venue with an estimated attendance of 10,000 people on the front page. (Actually, they offered two front-page stories.) How does the Post defend itself?

Then McCain and Palin's large Fairfax County rally was on the Metro section front page Thursday; a June 6 rally for Obama at Nissan Pavilion was on Page A1. [Assistant managing editor Ed] Thiede said, "We had a busier day with more competing for A1 play Wednesday, including a main art package commemorating the opening of the Sept. 11 memorial." These are logical answers in a newsroom, but they don't cut it with Republican-leaning readers, especially when, as I've reported, Obama has had a preponderance of Page 1 stories and photos throughout the paper.

On August 17, Howell noticed a dramatic three-to-one imbalance in Post front-page stories from June 4 to August 15, especially around Obama’s Nissan Pavilion event:

Obama has been featured in 35 stories on Page 1; McCain has been featured in 13, with three Page 1 references with photos to stories on inside pages.

The coverage of June 4, 5, 6 and 7 led to six Page 1 stories in The Post, including Obama's nomination victory his strategy, elation among African Americans over the historic nature of his win and his fundraising advantage. Then he made an appearance at Nissan Pavilion with Virginia's Gov. Timothy Kaine and Sen. James Webb, and it became a local Page 1 story. During those few days, there was one Page 1 reference to an inside-page story about McCain going after Clinton's disgruntled supporters.

On Sunday, Howell didn’t go any deeper than a paragraph about how the Post downplayed the huge McCain-Palin rally, moving into more specific complaints about Palin coverage. Looking at Thursday's front page, it’s hard to quibble with a story and photo of the new September 11 memorial at the Pentagon. It’s reasonable to expect an international story (hurricane deaths in Haiti), a local story (vote-counting glitches over RINO City Council member Carol Schwartz losing an election), and a military story (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed skepticism about whether we’re winning in Afghanistan).

But sharing the top of the front page of Thursday’s paper is a story about Inspector General reports of improper gift acceptance, drug use and sex at the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service. How does Thiede explain how that’s an Earth-shaker? It's too bad Howell didn't probe a little on that.

If you dig a little deeper, you'd also notice that the Tim Craig-Peter Slevin story on the McCain-Palin Fairfax rally...veers off the rally. It discusses Obama appearing at a school in Norfolk, Virginia, and how "emotion is growing among supporters of both candidates." It also relays plenty of hope Democrats can take Virginia thanks to social issues and resistance in Fairfax County to "conservative" views on abortion, and quotes Democrats saying "McCain's too conservative." Only one McCain fan is quoted at the rally, at the very end -- saying she wouldn't have attended if it wasn't for Palin.

Craig and Slevin also made sure to insert Democrat hecklers into the story: about 150 Obama supporters stood near the entrance to the rally, chanting "Bush, McCain, more of the same. They made space to note: "McCain supporters responded with taunts of their own, including 'zero,' 'losers,' 'baby killers,' and 'No-bama.'"

Compare this to the Nissan Pavilion story in June. Kristen Mack's front-pager had no mention of McCain or GOP hecklers, if there were any, and included five stories of excited Obama fans who pulled their kids out of school or cast their first vote for Obama. Tim Craig's front-pager offered the political analysis about how Dems hoped to take the state. 

Here's one last sign of how out-of-whack the B-1 placement of the huge 23,000-strong McCain-Palin Fairfax rally was: on August 7, the Post gave similar B-1 placement with color photo to Michelle Obama "mingling with hundreds" at a fundraiser and reading to school children in Norfolk.

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