This column was written by Mark Hemingway.
One of the more interesting tidbits of campaign news this week was a Pew Research poll which found that 48 percent of voters reported are suffering from " Fatigue" - that is, they feel that they have been hearing too much about the presidential candidate. By contrast, 38 percent of voters felt they have been hearing too little about .
While that's an interesting finding, Pew didn't bother to ask the logical follow-up questions - is what voters are hearing about Obama substantive, necessarily critical, or even relevant? Is it really that voters are hearing too much about Obama or are they not hearing enough of the right things?
Given that just a few weeks ago, a Rasmussen poll reported there's a "Belief Growing That Reporters are Trying to Help Obama Win," this would seem to be an important distinction. Forty-nine percent of voters felt the press was pro-Obama. Only 14 percent felt that the press was pro-McCain, a candidate so used to favorable coverage he jokingly referred to the media as "my base." Even Democratic respondents to the poll thought the press was favoring Obama over McCain in greater numbers.
When almost half the electorate thinks the media is in the tank for one candidate, any story that doesn't evaluate that candidate critically probably qualifies as "too much" in the literal and figurative sense of the phrase.
The ensuing consternation of the pundit classes about this disconnect between the voters and the media only worsens the problem. After pouring over a New York Times story about Obama's time as a professor at the University of Chicago, the Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote that the story was "a reminder of Obama's essential elusiveness, and how little we understand about how the candidate himself would resolve these thorny problems."
Just for a second, imagine you're Ruth Marcus: You've just read a New York Times story that essentially concludes that Professor Obama traded on his popularity with students while he remained totally unengaged with his colleagues and walked way from his time at the university without a significant piece of scholarship to his name. (It's almost like a metaphor or something.) When faced with such an unflattering portrait of a leading presidential candidate this late in the game, as a news person, do you a) belie your total indifference to your information-gathering role and churn out a column about how "elusive" Obama is, to no great insight? Or do you b) leave the cozy cocoon of the editorial department and walk down the hall to the once revered news desk of the Washington Freakin' Post and demand to know why it is that, three months away from an election, they have reported so little about the frontrunner that no one can say who he is?
Evidence that can provide insight into who Obama is as a politician and thinker certainly exists, but far too few journalists seem interested in looking for it, much less in reporting on it.
Just a few days before Marcus' bloviations, columnist Richard Cohen graced the Post's pages and concluded "I know that Barack Obama is a near-perfect political package. I'm still not sure, though, what's in it." To his credit, Cohen offered a more pointed comparison of the records of the two major candidates than Marcus' punchless inquiry. In sharp contrast with Obama, Cohen says he "could cite four or five actions - not speeches - that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe."
Now if you spend an entire column comparing the respective candidates' records as members of the U.S. Senate you might conclude - as Cohen does - that Obama's record is "tissue thin." While Cohen might be generally asking a good question here, he's falling into the same trap that the entire mainstream media pundit class has with regard to the question of Obama's experience: assuming the junior senator from Illinois arrived in Washington fully formed, newly sprung from the skull of Athena.
The fact is, before his brief sojourn on Capitol Hill, Obama spent several years as a willing tool of the Chicago political machine. His time there does little to indicate that Obama gave Chicago residents any hope that he would change the city's legendarily corrupt politics. Obama spent those years prostrate before the city's notoriously unethical and avaricious political bosses.
He wasn't just a cog in the machine, either; he worked the system to his own benefit, enriching himself in exchange for political favors, as is clearly the case with Tony Rezko - a telling episode the media now regards as speed bump on Obama's way to the White House. Obama hasn't even tried to wash off the stink of Chicago politics. At the same time that he's running ads claiming McCain has oil lobbyists raising money for him, Obama has a Chicago politician named Alexi Giannoulias - who has ties with organized crime that have been widely publicized in Chicago newspapers, and who has even been connected to a mob hit - working as a "bundler" raising thousands for his campaign. But when you mention Obama's record in Chicago, journalists stick their fingers in their ears and start saying "La, la, la. I can't hear you."
Good luck reading about Alexi Giannoulias on page A1 of the Washington Post. That precious journalistic real estate is almost exclusively the domain of wildly erroneous exposés of John McCain. On Wednesday, they ran a story about people being coerced into contributing to his campaign, misidentifying three of the four people they claimed were involved and who actually contributed money to other candidates. And let's not forget the story in April where the Post wrote about the candidate's legendary temper, citing a source who is a 9/11 truther and who by all accounts is a few delegates short of capturing the nomination of the Sanity party.
And then in May, another Post hit job alleged that McCain helped arrange a land swap of federally owned lands to benefit a developer who backed him - never mind mentioning that Arizona's Democratic governor approved of the deal and the Arizona Republic editorialized the land swap "will consolidate 70,000 acres of environmentally sensitive Forest Service lands and those owned by rancher Fred Ruskin, doubling the acreage for public access and recreation." Rather than telling us about Obama, it seems the Post thinks we don't know enough about John McCain, even if what they want us to know isn't true.
Are the media simply avoiding the truth with regard to Obama, because they know that he'll wither if subject to a fraction of the criticism McCain has been getting? Perhaps. Obama was asked a tough question - a refreshing change of pace - by a reporter this week about whether it was fair to tar McCain with connections to oil lobbyists when Obama voted for an energy bill that McCain opposed because it contained subsidies for oil companies. It prompted this outburst from the candidate: "Hold on a second Jon [the reporter's name], I thought I was talking to you instead of debating John McCain, but I am happy to let you serve as his proxy."
It's pretty pathetic that Obama thinks any critical question from the press amounts to being a "proxy for McCain." But why would you expect him to think any different? That's what happens when you give someone too much undeserved attention, and don't ask them enough questions.
By Mark Hemingway
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online