A bias against issues?

Much has been made of an alleged bias in the media against particular presidential candidates. One week Hillary Clinton complains about media treatment, the next week Barack Obama similarly complains.

But few people seem to be noticing the most damaging bias: the bias against covering issues of the campaign.

Yesterday, it can be argued, the most important current issue to Americans — the economy and the housing crisis — revealed the most stark differences yet in the current presidential campaign. It happened when John McCain, speaking to a group of Hispanic business owners, said:

“It is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”

The issue, to its credit, was front-page news to the New York Times, especially since it came just a day after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed government intervention in the crisis.

Similar credit goes to National Public Radio, which featured the — here comes that word — issue on its All Things Considered broadcast on Wednesday evening.

So how did it play in the morning papers and evening and morning TV news? Not so much. None of the TV broadcasts Wednesday evening considered the story, preferring instead to expand on the Clinton “misstatement” (some might call it a lie) on her trip to Bosnia — not an insignificant story, but one that was entering its fourth news cycle. On the morning TV programs, the big story was split between Chelsea Clinton telling students the Monica Lewinsky fallout in her family was “none of your business,” and the transgender man who says he’s pregnant. CBS even carried a story that seemed to apologize for its transfixing on gaffes by pointing out it’s a “slow news period.” Hello?

As for the newspapers, none of the Minnesota papers I checked this morning carried the story. One, the Star Tribune, had only one presidential candidate story on the front page and that was about Obama being related to Brad Pitt. The Pioneer Press carried a story about McCain being tight with Joe Lieberman (an angle, for the record, News Cut explored almost two months ago.)


News bosses outside of Washington and New York, it would appear, have concluded that you won’t read a story about the candidate differences on a major issue.

And the situation sounds similar to the assessment of the annual State of the News Media report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism on this disconnect.

Looking at stories that the public said they were most closely following, significant interest gaps emerged for several other news events — revelations that the dangerous staph “superbug” called MRSA was more common than previously thought, recalls of pet food, the troubled U.S. economy in the week that investor guru Warren Buffett said taxes on the rich were too low, and President Bush’s veto of the legislation intended to expand health insurance for children.

As was the case with many of the topic areas that got little coverage in the press, the common characteristic that defines these particular stories, including the spike at the gas pump, is that they speak to the nuts and bolts of daily existence, such as health and money.

  • brian

    I think this post may be preaching to the choir a little…

    I guess I think that people are less likely to read/listen to/watch political coverage in general and for people not inclined to consume political coverage the content doesn’t make much difference. I’m sure the “News Bosses” are more informed on the issue than I am though.

    Which do you think came first, the perception that we as a people won’t consume in depth coverage or our actual reluctance to consume it? Could it be a jump on the bandwagon thing?

    Does the issue bias come from the fact that in depth coverage of the issues is more expensive?

  • bsimon

    On the tv news last night the only political coverage I recall were two clinton clips. First, Sen Clinton’s testy ‘apology’ for ‘misremembering’ the lack of sniper fire in Bosnia. Second, a clip of Chelsea Clinton responding to a question about Ms Lewinsky with the phrase “none of your business.” Not one iota of coverage on any candidate’s position on the issues, much less any kind of compare-and-contrast coverage. I want to say that was on the Fox (9) broadcast at 9 or 9:30. I don’t recall any political coverage on whichever 10:00 news happened to be on.