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Campaign Coverage Skewed in Obama's Favor?

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Campaign Coverage Skewed in Obama's Favor?

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Campaign Coverage Skewed in Obama's Favor?

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. Every four years the race for the White House becomes priority number one for news organizations. This week, the three major television networks have assigned not just reporters, but anchors, to follow Barack Obama during his current trip abroad. Some critics are saying that John McCain didn't get the same kind of coverage on a similar trip, and are calling this media bias towards Obama. What do you think?

We invite your opinions on our blog at nprnewsandviews.org. But before you answer, consider this, the 2008 presidential race has already gotten an unprecedented amount of media coverage overall. That's what media analyst Andrew Tyndall says. We'll talk to him in a moment, but first we wanted to explore our own rules of engagement when it comes to presidential coverage. Ron Elving is with us, he's NPR's senior Washington editor. Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So, this is an exciting moment for us to take a look at ourselves. So, you know, first of all, how do you compare this presidential race with ones in the past?

ELVING: Can't do it. This is not like any presidential race in the past. We have already had the first woman candidate to be this close to being nominated. The first Hispanic candidate to be a major candidate. First Mormon. We have the first African-American nominee, now presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. And we also had a very interesting race on the Republican side that would have been kind of a barnburner in its own right. So, this has been a much more interesting presidential race that we've had in my lifetime. And it's just got an awful lot of facets of great news value.

CHIDEYA: So, how would you say, what would you say even coverage is? What is the goal really?

ELVING: The best thing you can do is to reach the end of the campaign and have people say, well, we got a fair look at the candidates from the beginning to the end. We got a fair look at the two nominees of the major parties. We got a fair look at the third party candidates. And we got a fair look at all the competitors back in the primaries. I don't think you can say that at all is going to be exactly the same number of minutes devoted to each.

For example, Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party candidate will not get nearly as much coverage as the two major party candidates. And we will try but we will probably not achieve absolute perfect mathematical equalness of numbers in the minutes and seconds to go to each of the two major party candidates, but we will try.

CHIDEYA: So, NPR's White House correspondent, Don Gonyea is with Senator Obama in Jordan, today. So, is his reporting there going to get the bulk of the news today?

ELVING: Not really the bulk. There will be a four-minute report from Don Gonyea on All Things Considered tonight. We did get him briefly into the newscast that you've just heard a few moments ago. And we did get a little bit of an update to what he had done for this morning's Morning Edition. But we also had a discussion of John McCain's campaign on in Morning Edition right after that. And there will be a discussion of what John McCain is saying right this minute at his note town hall in New Hampshire on that same All Things Considered tonight, of about the same length as Don Gonyea's report from Amman, Jordan.

CHIDEYA: Well, let's broaden this out a little bit to other folks' coverage again. So, there's reports that say that the New York Times returned an essay that Senator McCain wrote and told him it needed edits. He wrote the essay as a response to an op-ed that Senator Obama had published in the New York Times last week. So, the Times said that's just part of their editorial process and more details were needed for McCain's piece. Tell us a little bit more about NPR's editorial process with commentaries and we'll go back and talk about the Times.

ELVING: Well, we have a commentary policy too, in which, if somebody sends us something they'd like to read on our air, we take a look at it and we say yes, we'll put this on or no, we won't put this on, or most often we'd put this on if you're willing to take a look at this issue and that issue. In the case of what John McCain wanted to put on in response to Obama, the New York Times said, can you tell us what you mean by victory? And John McCain said, no, I want it - just have it run exactly the way I wrote it.

Well, he has published seven previous op-ed pieces in the New York Times, so he knows and his staff knows that the New York Times frequently writes back and says, we'd like this tweaking, and that's the price of poker if you want to appear on the op-ed page of the New York Times. That's not a citizenship right, it's something that's up to the New York Times. So, you don't want to play ball with them, you're probably not going to get that particular print space.

CHIDEYA: Overall, how good do you think we as a profession are at looking at ourselves in the mirror when it comes to things like bias, whether it's about political coverage or other issues?

ELVING: I'm sure most people would say, we're not very good, but I would not say it's not for lack of practice. Because we are looking at ourselves in the mirror almost constantly too much so, I would say. We probably go too far in trying to correct and we over correct. Our goal is to be as even handed and fair to all the candidates as we can be, but we are also sure that it's going to fall short of that goal in the minds of those who feel strongly about the relative value of the various campaigns.

If your campaign gets covered a lot, you're probably going to think that was a good measurement of coverage. If it doesn't get as much, you're probably not going to feel that way. But we still have to look for as many objective measures as we can, minutes on air, number of stories, positive negative, and we do that all the time.

CHIDEYA: Now, with all that said about media bias toward Senator Obama, CNN's poll of polls show he's only four points ahead of Senator McCain. So, what do you make of that?

ELVING: I think, it means, that the voters, or the people being polled as voters, don't take their cues from the media, which is not really hard to believe. I think most people absorb a certain amount of media information that they choose from certain sources of media information. They generally tend to go to ones that they find simpatico. They may agree or not agree with a lot of what they hear, but they make up their own minds, and they make up their minds on the basis of things that were in their minds before they went to the media.

CHIDEYA: Well, Ron. Thanks so much.

ELVING: My pleasure, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Ron Elving is NPR's senior Washington editor. He joined us from NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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