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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008
Conscience of the Media

Couple of straws in the wind...

First Vox posts an editorial cartoon that makes me chuckle.

Second the other week I heard Ted Koppel speak on the Diane Rehm Show.

The first straw deals with a pet peeve of mine; that in the days after Palin was announced as McCain's running mate the MSM along with a purported 30 lawyers and opposition researchers from the Obama campaign flooded Alaska looking to dig up dirt on the Alaska governor. Her political allies and enemies were found and interviewed and we found the former like her and the latter don't, who would have guessed that a politician had enemies? Her travel receipts were combed through, a story was ginned up for the front page of the Washington Post, and we learned that the paperwork was legit. The NY Times found out that her future son-in-law was a local amateur hockey star but now seems on his way to being the next Al Bundy.

Of such work Pulitzers are made.

Yet we still don't know much of Obama, especially during the formative years of his career when he was getting his start in Chicago. We know little of his association with William Ayers, his links to local rainmaker Tony Rezko, or how the avatar of "hope" and "change" could sit in Jeremiah Wright's church for 20 years. Why the difference in coverage?

That's where the second straw comes in. Mr. Koppel said that the reason for the flood of attention on Palin's Alaska connections was because she was a complete unknown to the press and most of the country while Obama had been previously vetted by the press through a long primary campaign. Back to this point a bit later.

When I argue the point of bias in the media, it begins with a simple concept. Space and resources are limited within media organizations; there's only so much space to print or time to run stories, only so many reporters on staff who can run down leads. Therefore media by necessity has to act like a search light, only able to illuminate certain stories while leaving others to languish in the darkness. The decision where to point the searchlight opens the potential for bias because the editor needs to have some basis on what constitutes a story worth pursuing and what doesn't. There's a lifetime of blog posts on the subject of that criteria, the ideological and institutional biases that come into play.

Koppel's point was that flooding the zone on Palin seemed a bit intense because the media had to make up for her newness and previous obscurity while Obama had already been explored and vented to the outside world. However when Obama was taking the political world by storm over the past 12 months, where were the reporters giving his history the same attention as they gave Palin? Much like the goal to get exercising and get fit can always be put off because there is always tomorrow as opposed to the goal of dropping 15 pounds to look good at your wedding next month, it seems like the thorough vetting of Obama never had the same degree of urgency that it did for Palin and so never got done.

I bet you can make the same argument for any of the candidates during the Republican and Democratic primaries. We knew more about who was ahead in New Hampshire on a given day than we ever did on where these people came from, what they did before they showed up on our TV screens, and if they were really the people they said they were (that goes for you as well Mike Huckabee.)