Nov 1, 2008

The bias against bias

Harold Evans finds a worrying media bias towards Obama:

"In the primaries, the press let the Obama campaign get away with continuous insinuations below the radar that the Clintons were race-baiters..... All the mainstream national outlets were extraordinarily slow to check Obama's background. And until it became inescapable because of a video rant, they wouldn't investigate the Reverend Jeremiah Wright connection for fear of being accused of racism. They wouldn't explore Obama's dealing with the corrupt, now convicted, Chicago businessman Tony Rezko. After years of inveighing against "money in politics", they've tolerated his breach of the pledge to restrict himself to public financing as McCain has done (to his cost). Now the LA Times refuses to release a possibly compromising video, which shows Obama praising Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi at a 2003 banquet, saying its promises to its source prevent it from doing so."

Where to start. There were no "insinuations below the radar that the Clintons were race-baiters" unless by "below the radar" he means from people unconnected with the campaign, like James Clyburn. "The Wright connection" didn't need "investigating": it was public knowledge. The media didn't ignore thestoryuntil videotape made it inescapable: the videotape was the story. Nor did they refuse to explore Obama's dealings with Rezko: it is thanks to their efforts that Obama was cleared of any wrong-doing. As for the public-financing issue, my memory of it is that the media called him on it, but the general consensus was that since small-donor contributions to his campaign didn't offend the larger principle at stake (independence from big donors), it would have been suicidal of him not to opt out.

The Khalidi story is different, since the full details are not yet known. What it looks like is an to smear Obama by his association with a respected Palistinian scholar: race-baiting in other words. The LA Times appears to have decided that, with just one week to go, allowing the McCain campaign to drag this man's reputation through the mud, if only to end up 'clearing' him, long after the damage to the presidential race has been done, is not justification enough to run the story. The Washington Post:

Our sense is that Mr. Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position. To suggest, as Mr. McCain has, that there is something reprehensible about associating with Mr. Khalidi is itself condemnable — especially during a campaign in which Arab ancestry has been the subject of insults. To further argue that the Times, which obtained the tape from a source in exchange for a promise not to publicly release it, is trying to hide something is simply ludicrous, as Mr. McCain surely knows.

One of the dumb things about the allegation of "media bias" is that since all our impressions of the campaign come through the media, the charge requires commentators to do nothing more substantial than sift through their generalised impressions of the race so far. It's atmospherics posing as argumentation. A subjective complaint about something subjective. That is not to say that the media don'tlike Obama more than they do McCain. He is the more likable candidate. If he wins the election, the media will have played their role as public weathervane with 100% accuracy. If you are not an Obama supporter, that must make you a little uncomfortable, but that discomfort you feel right now is the result of the press doing their jon, not reneging on it.

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