The double standard

I was simply going to blog about McCain's latest gaffe– discussing the non-existent border between Iraq and Pakistan.  It is pretty clear, though, that McCain actually did mean to say Afghanistan and that this is a genuine misstatement, rather than an actual lack of knowledge (Sunni-Shia?) masquerading as misstatement.  That's never really stopped the press corps before, though.  What really bothers me about this is the double standard.  Yeah, John McCain has certainly been passionate about foreign affairs for a long time, but I remain unconvinced that he actually understands the way the world works all that well or is particularly knowledgeable on the subject.  Yet, the “liberal media” seems to unfailingly give McCain a pass on these things, no matter what idiocy or “misstatement” leaves his lips. 

Media critic extraordinaire, Eric Bohelert (“The Press vs. Al Gore” is a classic of what is wrong with contemporary political journalism), has a nice column at Media Matters comparing the media's coverage of the silly sideshow of Jesse Jackson calling for Obama's “nuts” in comparison to McCain grabbing the third rail of American politics and hanging on, by calling Social Security “a disgrace.”  Given the media's love for McCain, he escaped unscathed.  Some highlights:

Journalism, by nature, is not difficult. It really
isn't. Most of the
key attributes for solid reporting and editing come naturally to most people;
fairness, hard work, and — most
important — common
sense.

News judgment, for instance, consists mostly of editors and
producers using common sense to determine, based on the limited resources at
hand, which breaking events and stories should be covered, and which ones can
be set aside as less important…

…the Beltway press corps has become so borderline
dysfunctional that even the simplest tasks, such as selecting which stories to
cover — such as using common sense — now escape most of the major players at
the mainstream news organizations.

Two events in recent days reaffirmed that sad conclusion,
when entire news organizations opted to throw all sorts of time and attention
at what was essentially a pointless campaign-related sideshow, while simultaneously
displaying blanket indifference to what should have been the campaign story of
the week, if not the month or possibly the entire summer.

Last week, after being hyped by Matt Drudge and Fox News,
the Beltway press unanimously decided that Rev. Jesse Jackson's whispered comments, picked up on a live television set mic,
in which he expressed anger with Sen. Barack Obama and used some crude language
to convey his sentiments (i.e. he wanted to cut off Obama's
“nuts”), represented a hugely important event. It was the most-covered
campaign story of the week.

By contrast, McCain
said
at a campaign appearance in Denver on July 7 that the Social Security
system as structured in America,
in which younger people
pay taxes to support the benefits of retirees, is an “absolute disgrace” — but his proclamation was
mostly passed over as being irrelevant. The disconnect between the coverage was
astounding.

As of Sunday morning, only 17 major metropolitan newspapers
in America had reported on McCain's “disgraceful” remark, in a
total of 20 articles and columns, according to search of Nexis.

By contrast, more than 50 major U.S.
dailies published a total of 126 articles and columns about the Jackson story. Several
influential newspapers went back to the story ad nauseam.
Combined, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Los Angeles Times published 39 different
articles and columns that referenced the Jackson-Obama controversy.

My earlier (and inferior) take on the “disgrace” here.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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