MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Barack Obama is expected to travel abroad soon. Some big names will be traveling with him - Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson among others.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports on the latest Obama media frenzy and the question of whether the networks are lavishing more attention on the Democratic candidate than on his opponent.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Andrew Tyndall is the nonpartisan television consultant behind the Tyndall Report. His database shows 41 stories by the three network newscasts on Barack Obama between May 2nd and July 2nd, and just 17 stories about Republican John McCain.
Mr. ANDREW TYNDALL (Director, Tyndall Report): This is a completely unusual, asymmetrical treatment of two candidates who were normally given equal footing.
FOLKENFLIK: And he should know. Tyndall's database goes back to 1988. Now, all three major anchors are negotiating to sit down with Obama for in-person interviews on consecutive nights in different countries. Tyndall says it's mystifying and inappropriate.
Mr. TYNDALL: This is entirely unprecedented that in the middle of a presidential campaign one of the two candidates should be afforded coverage that is normally reserved for the incumbent president in office, not for one who's vying for that office.
FOLKENFLIK: The networks say Obama got more coverage until mid-June because of the drawn-out Democratic primary struggle between him and Senator Hillary Clinton. As for traveling with Obama abroad, they say…
Mr. PAUL FRIEDMAN (Senior Vice President, CBS News): It's all part of the same game.
FOLKENFLIK: Paul Friedman is senior vice president of CBS News. He says it's pious posturing for critics to think networks should not allow candidates to determine where and when interviews occur.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: 'Twas always thus. It is what candidates do, public figures do, presidents do. Very seldom do we get the opportunity to say, sit down and talk now.
FOLKENFLIK: McCain has traveled abroad plenty but never with a network anchor during this election season. An anchor's presence magnifies the importance of an event, and if there are throngs of well-wishers or protesters for Obama, that can only help draw more interest from viewers, too.
Jon Banner is executive producer of ABC's World News. He says Obama's record needs the attention.
Mr. JON BANNER (Executive Producer, ABC World News): He's got a pretty significant deficit when it comes to the public opinion of him being able to lead a foreign crisis and his foreign policy experience.
FOLKENFLIK: And Banner says ABC News takes great pains to ensure such coverage will even out for the McCain camp over time.
Mr. BANNER: We know this trip puts us in a difficult position. We've discussed it with their campaign. We intend to give them an opportunity to do something similar. You know, there's a long time between now and Election Day.
FOLKENFLIK: Banner notes that last month, Gibson interviewed Obama in New York after the senator clinched the nomination and then flew the next morning to Florida to interview McCain in person. News executives say McCain himself upped the ante on the Obama trip by jabbing at Obama for talking strategy before going overseas.
McCain spoke earlier this week in Albuquerque.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around. First, you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy. So this is certainly somewhat of a departure from what - certainly what I've usually done.
FOLKENFLIK: But make no mistake, Obama's moves abroad will likely be scrutinized in exacting detail. In fact, Tyndall says even though Obama has received much more coverage, it hasn't been more positive, it's just been more voluminous - both during the primary and now in the general election season.
Mr. TYNDALL: Obama is the center of attention in this election. And we can just predict that that will happen all the way through to November. This is a test for Obama to see if he has the chops to become president.
FOLKENFLIK: But network executives like Paul Friedman say this is newsworthy.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: This is a new candidate. Many people have more questions about him than about his opponent. He's clearly been challenged on the issue of what he knows about foreign policy and national security policy. He's making this trip in response, to a large degree, to that kind of criticism. It's our job to go cover him.
FOLKENFLIK: Though specifics have not been formally announced for security reasons, the trip is expected to begin Friday, anchors in tow.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.