Media Darlings McCain, Obama Duel John McCain and Barack Obama have both consistently garnered favorable press in their years in the Senate and in grueling months on the campaign trail. But they are likely to face increasingly stringent scrutiny as the general election opens up.
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Media Darlings McCain, Obama Duel

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Media Darlings McCain, Obama Duel

Media Darlings McCain, Obama Duel

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It almost never happens: two media favorites in one race. John McCain and Barack Obama have both received pretty positive press in their years in the Senate and even during the grueling months on the campaign trail. As NPR's David Folkenflik explains, the two men achieved that favored status in very different ways.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Put yourself in the place of a reporter covering the presidential campaign. You're contending with candidates stuck on talking points, handlers keeping you at bay and endless travel.

Veteran political reporter Gwen Ifill, now host of PBS's "Washington Week," remembers…

Ms. GWEN IFILL (Host, "Washington Week"): On occasion, wondering whether I was too hungry to sleep or too sleepy to eat and being too exhausted to see my way through the next day. But you get up and do it, anyway.

FOLKENFLIK: So reporters appreciate anyone who makes their job easier or more interesting, such as the candidate who travels in a bus, and now an airplane, that he calls…

Mr. JAKE TAPPER (Political Correspondent, American Broadcasting Company): The Straight Talk Express.

FOLKENFLIK: ABC senior political correspondent Jake Tapper covered John McCain's primary contest with then-Governor George W. Bush for in 2000. McCain fed reporters a stream of quotable one-liners that often tweaked his fellow Republicans, sealing his reputation as a maverick. Tapper, like McCain, is back on the trail this year.

Mr. TAPPER: John McCain's life is basically a press availability.

FOLKENFLIK: Between campaign stops, McCain ambles the length of the bus to reporters, plops down and invites them to fire away.

Mr. TAPPER: At a certain point, you're like okay, Senator McCain, you know, we need to write our stories now. So if you don't mind going back up to the front…

FOLKENFLIK: McCain's become a bit more reserved, but he's still accessible. When the senator was aggrieved by a New York Times story earlier this year that suggested an inappropriately cozy relationship with a female lobbyist, he called a press conference and gritted through every single question reporters had to ask.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): Anything else?

Unidentified Man: Thank you.

Sen. McCain: Thank you all very much. Thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: McCain wins points being accessible in good times and bad, and the Times took heat for its anonymously sourced story. So McCain is a media favorite. But - and this is a key but - so is Barack Obama, if for very different reasons.

Obama is fresh. Another way to say that is that he's still largely unknown to reporters. He's just been in the U.S. Senate three-and-a-half years. What they do know is that he's an extraordinary orator who can electrify crowds. Yet for the media, Obama's not especially accessible. Mark Silva's been covering the campaign for the Chicago Tribune.

Mr. MARK SILVA (Reporter, Chicago Tribune): With Obama, it's more the story of the man than the man himself. He's had an amazing trajectory, coming from nowhere, launching what he, himself, called an improbable campaign at a time when it seemed that Hillary Clinton was, you know, unbeatable.

FOLKENFLIK: Obama's also run such a different campaign, truly based on the power of the Web, to organize a grassroots network to raise money, to draw young supporters and to energize black voters.

ABC's Jake Tapper says the new media favorite is starting to crowd out the old one.

Mr. TAPPER: The media loves new, and Barack Obama, warts and all, is new. John McCain was new eight years ago, and he's not new anymore. And I think that affects the general tone of the coverage.

FOLKENFLIK: In fact, one of the key questions about being a favorite of the press is whether that status truly does influence media coverage. Just ask John McCain about the lobbyist Vicki Iseman or Barack Obama about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

The Boston Globe just published a lengthy look at investors in dilapidated public-housing developments who have ties to Obama, while the press is starting to look closely at the lobbyists who are running McCain's campaign. But Gwen Ifill says media interest is not piqued solely by scandal in this cycle.

Ms. IFILL: We are always biased in favor of a good story, and this year, Republicans and Democrats both have served up candidates which give us good stories.

FOLKENFLIK: How the press corps will feel about the winning candidate after next January 20th, well that's another question. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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