Biden Coverage vs. Palin Coverage

UPDATE: Adding Nina Totenberg's Sept. 29 profile of Joe Biden.

Some listeners wonder if NPR has forgotten that Delaware Sen. Joe Biden is running for vice president on the Democratic ticket. They worry that much more attention is being paid to Sen. John McCain's controversial Republican running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

They may be on to something.

Since Sen. Barack Obama picked Biden as his No. 2 on August 23, NPR has mentioned or had a story on Biden 134 times on air, on blogs and on the web, according to NPR's Broadcast Library.

Palin's candidacy was announced six days after Biden's but she has received almost three times as much attention from NPR as has Biden.

"By and large you do a good job BUT, please give Joe Biden equal air time to Sarah Palin," said listener Teri Campbell in an email. "I awoke to NPR this a.m. and it sounded like there were 3 major candidates running for election, McCain, Obama, and Palin. I never heard Biden's name mentioned."

My office has received other similar complaints.

I asked Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor about the Biden coverage. He said he's also seen a sudden rise in listener comment about this subject.

"There is no question there has been far more reporting on Palin than Biden over the past several weeks," said Elving. "This reflects the same reality as the heavy coverage of Barack Obama last winter, at a time when we did far fewer stories about most of the other Democrat and GOP candidates. Obama was a new phenomenon who was scrambling the competition at a time when very little was known of him. Palin is the same.

"We have had less than a month to get to know someone who may well be a heart-beat away. There has been enormous interest in who she is — positive and negative — and she has clearly scrambled the competition for at least the first few weeks she was in the contest. She has changed the nature of the entire election, at least for the time being.

"She has also been traveling with McCain most of the time since the convention, meaning coverage of McCain becomes coverage of Palin. Biden and Obama have rarely been together, meaning he does not intrude on Obama stories."

NPR Correspondent Don Gonyea was on the road with Biden and did a piece on Sept. 18 and Robert Smith did a piece on Biden on Sept. 24. Currently, NPR Correspondent Nina Totenberg is traveling with Biden and working on a profile of him.

But, according to the Broadcast Library, Palin has generated a lot more attention from NPR. She's been mentioned 329 times —on air, on blogs, on the web — since she was nominated on Aug. 29.

"There will be more coverage of Biden as we approach the vice presidential debate (Oct. 2), and more thereafter," said Elving. "From that point forward, interest in the two vice presidential candidates may well even out."




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Are you serious? This is a joke right?Are you going to raise as many questions about Biden? Run as many (or any) cloaked hit pieces on Biden? Are your reporters going to make as many implied and overt digs at Biden?

This is one of the most ridiculous and blatantly biased stunts you all have ever pulled. To actually have the nerve to stand up and say "We haven't done enough to cover the Democratic side" is so ludacris on its face as to be laughable. Please print this letter on your website and read it on air.

Larry Cramer Louisville, KY

Sent by Larry Cramer | 10:55 PM | 9-27-2008

I wouldn't be too optimistic about NPR balancing the coverage. We've been trying to get them to cover the other 4 presidential and 4 vice-presidential candidates for almost two months now and nothing has changed.

We all know that it is almost impossible to be completely objective, so I understand if NPR's coverage reflects some bias towards the Democrats or the Republicans. However, NPR is making a conscious decision not to cover ALL the candidates, and also phrase their coverage in such a way as to mislead the public into thinking that there are only two presidential candidates. To me this is a clear indication that they want to keep the public ignorant instead of informing them.

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 11:31 PM | 9-27-2008

It seems that Obama's church got a lot of attention on NPR. Why not Palin's if your thesis holds?

Sent by andrew hennessy | 10:06 PM | 9-29-2008