Media too tough on Hillary, easy on Obama?

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That’s the question that has been making the rounds among journalists lately.

The Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson doesn’t think so.

The theme of press bias, however, is woven through the Clinton campaign’s narrative of the story thus far. There are two basic allegations: that journalists look at Obama uncritically while subjecting Hillary Clinton to microscopic scrutiny; and that we react with hair-trigger reflexes when attacks on Obama have the slightest whiff of racism but don’t seem to notice, or care, when Clinton is subjected to rank sexism.

The first charge is just bogus, in my view. Like Clinton, Obama has developed position papers on all the major issues. Clinton has been able to highlight the differences between her proposals and Obama’s — for example, the fact that her plan for universal health insurance includes a mandate, whereas Obama’s does not. In debates, she has had the chance to challenge his approach and defend her own. It is not the media’s fault if voters do not agree with Clinton that nominating Obama would be a “leap of faith.”

It is true that the candidates’ stump speeches are markedly different: Clinton’s is about competence and diligence, Obama’s about hope and change. But journalists didn’t write those speeches, campaign speechwriters did. And any reporter or commentator who failed to note that Obama is an exceptional public speaker would be guilty of journalistic malpractice.

Reporters are busy combing through Obama’s personal, professional and financial history, just as they have examined the lives of the Clintons. Obama has facilitated this process by releasing his tax returns, which Clinton has declined to do. It is not unfair to point this out.

[Continue reading Hillary vs. Obama]

Former PBS “Newshour” reporter Terence Smith disagrees.

The coverage of Hillary during this campaign has been across-the-board critical, especially since she began losing after New Hampshire. She may have brought much of the negative reporting on herself, sometimes with the help of her husband. Able and articulate as she is, Hillary can be as polarizing among the media as she is with the public.

And her campaign has taken the tough-love approach with the reporters who cover it, frequently ostracizing those they think are critical or hostile. That kind of aggressive press-relations strategy may sometimes be justified, but it rarely effective. Reporters are supposed to be objective and professional. But they are human. They resent the cold shoulder, even if they understand the campaign’s motivation.

The result is coverage that is viscerally harsh: her laugh is often described as a “cackle.” Her stump speech is dismissed as dry and tiresomely programmatic. She is accused of projecting a sense of entitlement, as though the presidency should be hers by default, that it is somehow now her turn to be president. When she makes changes in her campaign hierarchy, she is described as “desperate.”

[Continue reading Tough on Hillary]

A similar debate regarding Republican candidates had been waged on conservative talk shows, with most hosts arguing that the media strongly favored John McCain over many other candidates, especially Mitt Romney.

3 Responses to “Media too tough on Hillary, easy on Obama?”

  1. 1 katefranklin February 19, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    The Clintons loved the free ride of inevitability that the media gave them in the year run-up to the Iowa caucuses. Now that it seems her numbers were initially based on name recognition, the Clintons are decidedly upset. They have run a divisive and nasty campaign, and the press has merely pointed this out. She has refused to give real reasons to vote for her, instead resorting to an ambush of attacks to serve as reasons *not* to vote for her opponents. With her entire campaign couched in the negative, it is no wonder there is little left for voters to like about her.

  2. 2 carlcaceres February 25, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Eugene Robinson argues convincingly that the media are in fact not biased toward Obama, but are simply telling it like it is. Obama is charismatic, eloquent and knows how to fire up a crowd, like him or not. The media has exposed both candidates and it is very difficult to prove that one candidate is being portrayed more negatively than the other. It is also possible that there are simply more negative newsworthy items to report about Hilary. Even Terence Smith admits that she and her husband may have brought negative attention upon themselves. Bill Clinton arguing on his wife’s behalf is understandable, but because he is not a neutral observer, his comments on the election should be taken with a grain of salt. The people will decide the election and not the media; those complaining that Hilary is being unfairly criticized would be well served to remember that.

  3. 3 meganwalsh10 March 4, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    It is difficult to decipher whether the media is being unfairly harsh on Hillary or not. Both articles above make good arguments. I know others have picked up on the fact that maybe the media ia being easier on Obama than Hillary. Saturday Night Live has done several parodies of the press being cruel to Hillary, while being openly kind to Obama. But it does not seem too surprising that the press is more critical of Hillary, because most people either love her or hate her. And if you hate her, even if you are a journalist and are trying to be non-biased, you are going to have some form of a slant to your writing.

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This blog is maintained by Dr. Matthew M. Reavy as a service to journalism students at the University of Scranton.



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