- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2008

The lady has not been spared by the press.

Among the four White House hopefuls, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has received the roughest treatment from journalists in recent days. Overall, 38 percent of Americans say the media has been “too tough” on Mrs. Palin, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

In contrast, only 5 percent said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been roughed up by news organizations; less than a quarter said the same of Sen. John McCain.

Republicans are definitely protective of their vice-presidential hopeful: 63 percent said Mrs. Palin had received unfair coverage. Among Democrats, 18 percent agreed - although only 9 percent said the press had been too tough on Sen. Barack Obama.

The vigorous treatment of Mrs. Palin has gone beyond critical reporting or partisan bias, say some observers.

There’s prurient shenanigans afoot, said Noel Sheppard, an analyst with the press watchdog Newsbusters.com, who has taken both the Associated Press and Reuters to task for publishing “indecent pictures of Sarah Palin’s legs.” Both wire services offered nearly identical photos from a campaign rally in Pennsylvania that depicted close-ups of gaping men in red “McCain/Palin” T-shirts, their faces upturned and framed by the governor’s black high heels and calves.

“Are these appropriate pictures from major wire services? Would women’s groups tolerate these kinds of pictures if this was a Democrat candidate? No, I don’t think so,” Mr. Sheppard said.

Web site editor Matt Drudge headlined the image as a “strip club angle shock.”

At the other end of the scale, Newsweek magazine came under fire from some Republican strategists for this week’s cover featuring an extreme close-up of Mrs. Palin chock-full facial lines and imperfections. The image appeared to be a portion of a portrait of Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin that ran in the magazine on Sept. 8.

“Assuming it is an outtake from the earlier shoot, it opens Newsweek up to charge of ambush-by-photo-editing. If Palin was shot for what she was told would be a portrait of her alongside John McCain, she arguably had a reasonable expectation that her face would not be shown in every-hair-and-pore detail,” speculated Jeff Bercovici of Portfolio.com.

Meanwhile, the Pew survey also revealed that the other candidates were enjoying a relatively pain-free experience in the press. Six out of 10 of the respondents said that Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden had received “fair” treatment in news coverage; the figure was 38 percent for Mrs. Palin in the survey of 1,000 adults conducted Oct. 3-6.

Americans are very much engaged in the election, with 61 percent “very closely” following campaign news, up from 52 percent in 2004 and 39 percent in 2000, the Pew study found.

If blogging interest was an accurate gauge of the election, then Republicans might have cause to celebrate. Mrs. Palin is currently the most “blogged about” person on the planet, according to Blog Pulse, a division of Nielsen Media Research, which tallied 284,566 posts about the governor on Tuesday alone.

Overall, public interest in the vice-presidential derby trumps presidential competition in broadcast.

Ratings numbers for the three recent candidate debates perhaps reveal a Palin-centric audience, according to Nielsen: 70 million tuned in to witness Mrs. Palin spar with Mr. Biden on Oct. 2. while 63 million watched Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama Tuesday night. A little more than 52 million watched the presidential pair on Sept. 26.