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.