Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just as a new poll showed most voters think the news media is biased in favor of Democrat Sen. Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign, the New York Times spurred criticism by refusing to publish an op-ed article on the Iraq war by Republican rival Sen. John McCain.

The Times said Mr. McCain’s piece was not up to snuff, unlike one it ran July 14 by Mr. Obama of Illinois that presented a 16-month pullout timetable for Iraq, and the newspaper suggested how it should be rewritten.

“The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech),” David Shipley, editor of the Times’ Op-Ed page, said in an e-mail to the McCain campaign. “While Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans.”

McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said Mr. McCain shouldn’t be punished for being consistent with his positions, and the Republican Party said the critique smacked of censorship.

The flap erupted as a new Rasmussen Reports survey showed nearly 60 percent of voters say Mr. Obama gets better treatment from journalists. Nearly half of voters - 49 percent - said reporters would help Mr. Obama, compared with 14 percent who said Mr. McCain benefited from friendly coverage.

The Rasmussen survey suggested the perceived trend is intensifying, with those seeing a pro-Obama slant jumping 5 percentage points from last month while views regarding Mr. McCain stayed the same.

Mr. Shipley in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, said the newspaper would be eager to publish an essay by Mr. McCain that “mirrored” Mr. Obama’s piece and articulated in concrete terms how Mr. McCain defines victory in Iraq.

“It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory - with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the senator’s Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan,” Mr. Shipley wrote.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson said Mr. McCain’s strategy for victory in Iraq is not based on New York Times’ requests.

“Unlike Barack Obama, Senator McCain will continue to advocate a winning strategy war based on conditions on the ground, not an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal,” she said.

The New York Times did not respond to requests to further explain the rejection of Mr. McCain’s editorial.

The newspaper weathered criticism in September 2007 for running a full-page ad disparaging Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ testimony about progress in Iraq and charging the liberal group MoveOn.org a reduced price for the ad.

Other research supports an Obama obsession in the news media.

The Tyndall Report, which monitors the content of network newscasts, found that Mr. Obama warranted 114 minutes of coverage in the past six weeks. Mr. McCain had 48 minutes.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism offered similar findings. Of 342 print and broadcast stories on the presidential campaign last week, Mr. Obama was “a significant presence” in 77 percent of them, compared with 48 percent that had more emphasis on Mr. McCain.

This week, high-profile anchors are lined up for exclusives whenever Mr. Obama disembarks from his new campaign jet. Katie Couric of CBS News will interview the White House hopeful Tuesday in Jordan, and it will be ABC’s Charles Gibson’s turn in Israel on Wednesday. On Thursday, NBC’s Brian Williams will chat up Mr. Obama in Germany.

“It’s Obama’s magical media tour,” said Brent Baker, an analyst with the conservative Media Research Center, who also noted that networks billed Mr. Obama’s overseas visit as “captivating” and “history-making,” among other things.

The press does not have a sterling reputation. The Rasmussen survey found that 71 percent of the respondents said reporters “try to help the candidate they want to win,” while 16 percent offered “unbiased” coverage.

Forty-five percent said reporters would “hide information” that could hurt the candidate they favored; 30 percent said the press would not hide the information, and a quarter were not sure.

Such impressions come with a price, though. Asked who they trusted for campaign news, 29 percent said “news reporters,” while 43 percent said “family and friends.” Over a quarter were not sure whom they trusted.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted July 19 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.

Americans also seem cynical about the upcoming political conventions as well. Half of the respondents in a Washington Times-Fox 5-Rasmussen Reports survey said the gatherings were a “waste of time and money,” while 36 percent said they presented “an opportunity for voters to get to know the candidates.”

Among Republicans, 58 percent said the conventions were a waste, compared with 38 percent of Democrats.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted July 15-18, also with a margin of error of three percentage points.

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