Pressing Obama

Dan Balz argues that, since Barack Obama is way ahead in the polls and thus the most likely next president, the press should subject him to especial scrutiny on the financial crisis and other major issues.

How adaptable is Obama to all of this? How willing is he to address these questions in real time, as opposed to later? How much time has he given recently to rethinking the scope and ambition of a possible Obama administration? Would he come to office with a determination to be bold or to be cautious? Is he the pragmatist that allies have suggested — or committed to a more ideologically oriented agenda, as his critics say?

Other questions that ought to be raised include what his commitment to bipartisanship amounts to at this point. He has talked about turning the page on old politics throughout his campaign. What does that mean?

Jonathan Chait thinks this would be unfair.

Balz is saying that voters need to know all these things about Obama (he does not say they need to know this about McCain) before the election. Why before the election? It can only be because they might decide they prefer McCain instead. But why should voters be making this decision on the basis of how they judge Obama, rather than an even comparison between the two candidates?

[…]

I’ve heard reporters admit that coverage can be biased for one reason or another — ideology, desire for a close race, personal afinity for one of the candidates — but I’ve never before seen one openly propose a double standard.

Steve Benen agrees, adding,

If major news outlets want to scrutinize the candidates closely over the remaining 21 days, with an emphasis on substance and philosophy of governing, I’d be delighted. But for those same outlets to decide in advance that the leading candidate deserves extra scrutiny, just because he’s ahead, seems wildly irresponsible.

I agree, in principle, that the press should not go after one candidate harder than the other and that it’s not their job to try and even out the race.  (It is, however, in their interests that the race is close since it gets people glued to their TV sets, clicking links on their website, etc.)   At the same time, it’s not entirely unreasonable for them to direct their questions at the candidates most likely to win.

After all, we’re not asking these questions of Bob Barr or Ralph Nader.  Why?  Because they are statistically no more likely to be elected president than my dog, Miniver (who, incidentally, indisputably born in these here United States and is, in dog years, well past 35 and has never taken an earmark).  How do we know?  The polls tell us so.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Media, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Frankly, I’d be bloody amazed if Benen DIDN’T agree with Chait in this.

  2. Anderson says:

    The media get bored when the race doesn’t look close, & see it as their duty to make things interesting.

    Remarkably, they feel no self-consciousness whatsoever about it.

  3. Christopher says:

    Likely to win? Polls? Funny how many idiots out there (like you, James) believed that Kerry would win the last presidential election. But I suppose if you really WANT Obama to win (like you, James), then it always helps to tell people how far ahead in the polls he is-even if he isn’t that far ahead in the polls.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Perhaps that double standard Chait speaks of would actually bring the press coverage back to being somewhat fair.

    The press is now realizing they have backed an unexperienced empty suit and with the financial trouble eating away their 401K’s they may be having some remorse. I expect hard questions to start hitting Obama and we’ll see how he handles an unsympathetic press corp.

    I disagree with Christopher and assume James Joyner wants McCain to win even if his support is tepid.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Funny how many idiots out there (like you, James) believed that Kerry would win the last presidential election.

    Uh…no. I’m sure there were times when I was nervous, but I not only predicted a Bush win but got all 50 states and DC right.

    But I suppose if you really WANT Obama to win (like you, James), then it always helps to tell people how far ahead in the polls he is-even if he isn’t that far ahead in the polls.

    Umm….no. First, I don’t want Obama to win, although I’m less concerned about the Democrat winning than with any presidential election in my lifetime. Second, I’m just analyzing the polls as a professional analyst. I look for the bright spots for McCain when they’re there and long treated polls showing McCain 2-3 points behind Obama as a statistical tie. We’re long past that point, though, with the RealClearPolitics average showing an 8 point Obama lead and an Electoral College blowout.

  6. Dantheman says:

    “and has never taken an earmark”

    I am willing to bet he has marked his ear, though.

  7. Michael says:

    At the same time, it’s not entirely unreasonable for them to direct their questions at the candidates most likely to win.

    Here’s the problem, if they only ask these question of Obama, then we don’t know what McCain’s answers would be to the same questions. It may well be that most people would dislike McCain’s answers more than they would dislike Obama’s answers. But if hearing only Obama’s answers leads to a McCain victory, then the media had influenced an election to go against public preference.

  8. James Joyner says:

    It may well be that most people would dislike McCain’s answers more than they would dislike Obama’s answers.

    That’s a fair point. Then again, it could be said of Barr and Nader in the opposite direction. Granted, Obama-McCain are comparatively competitive. But the media makes these sort of judgments all the time.

  9. Michael says:

    That’s a fair point. Then again, it could be said of Barr and Nader in the opposite direction. Granted, Obama-McCain are comparatively competitive. But the media makes these sort of judgments all the time.

    The media has to make the judgment somewhere, I’m just saying that stopping at only one candidate is too few. It would be like only inviting the leading candidate (singular) to their debates.

  10. Michael says:

    Just because this thread needs a car analogy:

    Imagine you go to rent a car at the airport. The rental agent says you have a choice between their last two cars. The first gets terrible gas mileage and has no A/C. Which car do you want?

  11. When it comes to questioning The One, I’d settle for any scrutiny at all from the working press. This nonsense is premised on a supposition that this has been happening all along.

  12. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I agree with Charles Austin. Obama’s whole campaign is based upon promises of future action with no history to back it up. If we ask to look at the history of this candidate we are called racist and at least detractors from the “real issues”. The real issue is who and what are we electing President of the United State. Commander in Chief of the military. When he is sworn in, will he be as true to that promise as he was to the one to take public financing? What Obama has always said is a far cry from what Obama has always done.

  13. andrew says:

    Certainly Obama deserves the same level of scrutiny that Bristol Palin got. On the other side all I ask is that the MSM treats Republicans with the same respect they used to give Arafat.

  14. just me says:

    Honestly I would just like to see many of the questions asked of Palin in her interviews asked of the two major candidates. I think she has been subjected to some of the most challenging interviews.

    I would like to see Obama asked to list what SCOTUS cases he disagrees with and why. I would really love to see him what cases he disagreed with since Roberts and Alito were added to the court, since he opposed both of them. I think that would reveal a lot about his judicial philophy.

    But then I think Obama has been treated rather well by the press and given a lot of softball type questions. I think McCain to some degree has as well-at least when it comes to questions about policy.

  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    On the other side all I ask is that the MSM treats Republicans with the same respect they used to give Arafat.

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  16. djools says:

    It is not fair to focus on the candidate who is doing well in the polls because polls mean nothing. It would be populist journalism.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Obama’s whole campaign is based upon promises of future action with no history to back it up.

    What Obama has always said is a far cry from what Obama has always done.

    Nice work III, you just denied Obama has a record and proceeded to cite his record in the same paragraph.

    Those brain cells are workin’ overtime…