Reporters boarded a repainted campaign charter for presidential candidate Barack Obama in Chicago on Sunday. Obama was headed for the Middle East.
Obama’s trip to Mideast keeps TV anchors in tow
Television news' royalty will fly in to meet Barack Obama during this week's overseas trip: CBS chief anchor Katie Couric in Jordan today, ABC's Charles Gibson in Israel tomorrow and NBC's Brian Williams in Germany on Thursday.
The anchor blessing defines the trip as a major event and - much like a "Saturday Night Live" skit in February that depicted a press corps fawning over Obama - raises anew the issue of fairness in coverage.
The news media have devoted significantly more attention to the Democrat since Hillary Rodham Clinton suspended her campaign and left a two-person contest for the presidency between Obama and Republican John McCain, according to research conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
News executives say there are reasons for the disparity, such as the continuing story about whether Clinton's and Obama's supporters can reconcile. They even partly blame McCain. By criticizing Obama for a lack of foreign policy experience, McCain raised the stakes for Obama's trip, "especially if he winds up going into two war zones," said Paul Friedman, senior vice president of CBS News.
Obama has traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq. He is also scheduled to visit Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and England. Network anchors stayed home during McCain's recent foreign excursions.
Talk show host Rush Limbaugh said none of this should be a surprise.
"My prediction is that the coverage of Obama on this trip will be oriented toward countering the notion he has no idea what he is talking about on foreign policy and defense issues and instead will prop him up as a qualified statesman," Limbaugh said.
Along with newsworthiness, the question of fairness was discussed within ABC News before it was agreed Gibson would travel, said Jon Banner, executive producer of "World News."
"We have already been in discussions with the McCain campaign to try to afford them the same or a similar opportunity," Banner said.
Shortly after Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, Gibson flew to Miami for a McCain interview, he said.
For each of the weeks between June 9 and July 13, Obama had a much more significant media presence. The Project for Excellence in Journalism evaluates more than 300 political stories each week in newspapers, magazines and television to measure whether each candidate is talked about in more than 25 percent of the stories.
Every week, Obama played an important role in more than two-thirds of the stories. For July 7 to 13, for example, Obama was a significant presence in 77 percent of the stories, while McCain was in 48 percent, the PEJ said.
Sure, there are weeks Obama's going to make more news, said Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director. But every week?
"No matter how understandable it is, given the newness of the candidate and the historical nature of Obama's candidacy, in the end it's probably not fair to McCain," he said.
TV executives noted that Obama has courted attention, particularly for the overseas trip, more so than McCain. There's some danger involved, too. One Obama gaffe while overseas, or the appearance that he's not ready for an international spotlight, and the media's elite will be there to judge him.
NBC News President Steve Capus said he finds it funny this is an issue, considering how much people have accused the press corps - and still do - of being too cozy with McCain. The Arizona senator had been a frequent guest of "Meet the Press."
"We're just trying to do our jobs," Capus said. "There's no question that there's great news value in Sen. Obama's trip overseas. That's why we are doing this."