Political journalists have often suggested that presidential candidates announcing their endorsements isn’t very newsworthy, but that news judgment apparently never applies to Barack Obama. As the media gushes with hyperbole that it’s somehow “breaking news” that Obama’s endorsing Hillary Clinton, let’s ask the obvious question: Did this happen when President Bush endorsed John McCain on March 5, 2008? Not even close.
For example, The Washington Post placed Obama’s endorsement of Hillary as the most prominent story on Friday's front page, with the headline “President announces his pick: Clinton.” The suspense must have been killing them. But on March 6, 2008, the Post put Bush endorsing McCain on....page A-9. The headline wasn’t even just about the Republicans: “Bush and McCain Stress Their Unity, and So Do the Democrats.”
In addition, today's Obama story is almost exactly twice as long as the 2008 story on Bush.
While Friday’s Obama-endorses-Hillary story quickly turned to Obama’s praise that “I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office” as Hillary, the Bush/McCain story in 2008 by reporters Michael Shear and Michael Abramowitz began by focusing on the endorsee’s tardiness:
President Bush usually does not like to be kept waiting, but he appeared to be in a giddy mood yesterday when he emerged from the North Portico of the White House, only to find that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was not there.
"So, anyway," Bush said to the reporters who had assembled there to see the two men shake hands. "As I was saying . . ." He smiled a bit, but no McCain. He did a mock soft-shoe dance. "I'm just going to tap-dance a little," the leader of the free world said. Finally, he disappeared into the White House, telling onlookers: "Pretend like it never happened."
After McCain and his wife, Cindy, finally arrived, Bush and the senator had lunch in the small dining room next to the Oval Office, then emerged for the long-anticipated endorsement by the president in the Rose Garden.
In 2008, ABC’s World News had a story (also promoting the angle that McCain was tardy). CBS had a story on CBS This Morning where Chip Reid pointed out “McCain may be the presumptive nominee, but Bush is still the president, and he dominated the press conference, on more than one occasion cutting McCain off.”
On NBC Nightly News, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell mentioned the tardiness and then really underlined how a Bush endorsement might be damaging, something NBC would never imagine saying about Obama:
KELLY O’DONNELL: The picture of John McCain walking out of the Oval Office with a smiling President Bush today will be an eye-of-the-beholder moment in this campaign.
GEORGE W. BUSH: It's been my honor to welcome my friend, John McCain, as the nominee of the Republican Party.
O'DONNELL: Republicans see the president as a valuable asset.
BUSH: And I could help raise him money, and if he wants my pretty face standing by his side at one of these rallies, I'll be glad to show up.
O'DONNELL: Democrats will seize on this side-by-side moment as an opportunity to wrap McCain in Mr. Bush's unpopular policies. Today a liberal advocacy group launched this TV spot in Pennsylvania.
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It’s almost amusing how unimportant ABC thought it was on Good Morning America:
CHRIS CUOMO: On the Republican side, it's official. Senator John McCain will be the party's nominee. His four wins were enough to force Mike Huckabee out of the race. He heads to the White House for President Bush's endorsement.
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MRC’s Scott Whitlock underlined that the networks offered a 6-to-1 disparity in air time to the Democrats as McCain wrapped up the race:
Despite the fact that John McCain officially clinched the GOP nomination on Tuesday, the three network morning shows on Wednesday devoted almost a full hour of air time to covering the Democratic presidential race and barely nine minutes for the Republicans. Additionally, the Arizona Senator did not appear on NBC's Today show, ABC's Good Morning America or the CBS Early Show. Democratic Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, however, showed up on all three programs.
The network morning shows featured the Democratic presidential candidates for a grand total of 59 minutes and 12 seconds. McCain and his remaining rival, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, received a mere nine minutes and ten seconds of coverage. Now, obviously, the Democratic race is a close, hard fought contest. So, it's natural that it would receive more attention. However, McCain's very act of winning the nomination should be a well covered event, especially considering the candidate's remarkable rise from the political dead. The networks, apparently, saw it a different way.
In addition to lack of coverage, all three programs featured early stories on Clinton and Obama first and buried McCain coverage at the end of the 7am hour or later. Good Morning America didn't get to McCain until 7:30. The Early Show waited until the 8am hour to focus on the Senator.
On Good Morning America, while not interviewing McCain, co-host Diane Sawyer found time to pose particularly frivolous questions to Obama. She twice asked whether the Senator would like to go back on Saturday Night Live and closed the segment by gushing: "On a personal note, because it is always a family campaign as well, what did Mrs. Obama say to you last night?"