- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) - Now that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has ended her bid for the presidency, political journalists are suddenly deprived of one of their favorite stories: When is she going to drop out?

A study indicates that the only campaign topics that got more attention in the past two months were Sen. Barack Obama’s talkative former minister, the Pennsylvania primary and the fallout from President Bush’s remarks about appeasement while in Israel.

More time was spent discussing when Mrs. Clinton might call it quits than about how the candidates might deal with the war in Iraq, the high price of gasoline, home foreclosures or the sputtering economy. Or about anything that presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain said or did during April and May, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s analysis of political coverage in newspapers, on Internet sites and on television news.

This doesn’t even count the frenzied days after the Iowa caucuses in January, when there was so much media discussion about whether Mrs. Clinton’s campaign would end if she didn’t win in New Hampshire that many analysts think a backlash against it was a factor in her victory.

The coverage embittered the Clinton campaign and, in the eyes of one veteran journalist, should provoke some soul-searching.

“It was inappropriate, for journalists especially, to try to cut the process short,” NBC News’ anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw told the Associated Press. “It was an appropriate issue for people to report on, in context, but there was an awful lot of commentary disguised as reporting that gave the impression that people were trying to shove her out of the race.”

Mr. Brokaw’s old-school attitude often put him at odds with Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann when he joined them for primary-night coverage on MSNBC this year. One example was last Tuesday. Mr. Brokaw was talking about the contrasts between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama when Mr. Olbermann interjected about “a third one trying to shoehorn her way” into the coverage.

“Well, I think that’s unfair, Keith,” Mr. Brokaw replied. “I don’t think she shoehorned her way in. When you look at the states that she won and the popular vote that she piled up and the number of delegates that she has on her side, she’s got real bargaining power in all of this.”

Americans have taken a deep interest in the campaign, and the media - particularly cable news - has responded to strong ratings by giving them more, more, more. It encouraged a predictive culture, fueled by opinion polls. It was not enough to report what was happening; people needed to prove themselves by talking with assurance about what would happen.

There also was an overwhelming need for closure, odd for a very close race even in the context of recent history, when Gary Hart, a Democratic senator from Colorado, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, took losing nomination fights to the summer conventions. As one veteran political reporter wondered recently: Why would journalists seem so eager to see the best story of their life end?

“I’ve always felt that it was not the job of reporters to be like ‘The Gong Show’ and hoot candidates off the stage,” said John F. Harris, editor in chief of the Politico Web site.

Between the fascination of many reporters with Mr. Obama and constant counting of his slow march toward the required number of delegates for the nomination, the Clinton campaign has some legitimate gripes about the way they were covered, he said.

It was hard for the Clinton campaign to stay off the defensive, when so much time was spent on stories about the hopelessness of her situation, said Lisa Caputo, a former White House aide and an adviser to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

“You can’t count people out before they’re out,” she said. “Let the process play out. There was an awful lot of not letting the process play out on its own merits but trying in some respects to influence the process.”

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