- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

An important day of reckoning finally arrived in the presidential race yesterday, and not a minute too soon. The press at last had genuine news events to cover, rather than weepy moments or political kerfuffles.

Most news organizations treated Super Tuesday as a dress rehearsal for Election Day, with fancy graphics, multitudes of correspondents and frantic wall-to-wall coverage from rural voting booths and hotel ballrooms alike. But some wonder if journalists remain in “anointing” mode — winnowing down the field of candidates through selective coverage, ultimately proving a disservice to voters who are hungry for substantive issues and acutely engaged in the race.

“Primary coverage is horribly slanted. The mainstream media all-out attacked Fred Thompson and wounded his campaign seriously with the false ‘he’s lazy’ charge, and they serially attacked his wife, too. With him out of the way, they are now doing their best to slam Mitt Romney at every turn in favor of John McCain,” said Warner Todd Huston of NewsBusters, a media-watchdog group.

“They think McCain is beatable, and if not, is liberal enough to suit them. So they are propping McCain up as much as they can,” said Mr. Huston, who also took the New York Times to task.

The paper yesterday showcased a photo of Mr. Romney that looked “sinister” when compared to his rivals, a “happy Clinton, McCain, Obama,” he said.

“I don’t detect insidious agenda here. This is all journalism as usual,” countered Thomas Patterson of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. “The issues are a backdrop. Journalists prefer the horse race — or controversy — just like the old days.”

A Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) study released yesterday found that the urge to “anoint” remains a factor in press coverage. The report found that Mr. McCain got 75 percent more coverage than Mr. Romney in the past week, turning the Arizona Republican senator into the “presumptive nominee.”

It could provide a novel dynamic, said PEJ Associate Director Mark Jurkowitz.

“We’re actually getting more substance after this winnowing. The campaign narrows down, going from unmanageable to a handful of people who could be the next president,” he said. “We’re still getting horse race, but as the debate gets focused, we’ll see more issues covered.”

Broadcasters rallied around Super Tuesday. CNN offered 40 hours of nonstop coverage, flaunting a new phenomenon: the “mojo,” or “mobile journalist” working on the run from a fancy Ford Exhibition. Fox News constructed an entire new Super Tuesday set in Midtown Manhattan. CBS, ABC and NBC jettisoned their prime-time lineup last night for election coverage.

C-SPAN, meanwhile, calmly guaranteed primary results, but only “as they happen,” said spokesman John Cardarelli. “We don’t get involved in the horse race. Viewers themselves decide the impact and importance of the events. We supply the information.”

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