It seems that the mainstream press — what remains of it — has decided that Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate and the few boys left on the bus seem to be climbing off it and onto his bandwagon at the expense of fairness.
That’s the inescapable impression one gets from the deluge of coverage that exposes Hillary Rodham Clinton to far more scrutiny than her opponent.
That was the central theme of two of Clinton’s top guns, Harold Ickes and Bill Singer, when they showed up the other morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with some of the big hitters in the world of punditry. But the aides’ efforts to portray their candidate as still viable and to beg for equal focus on Obama were greeted with politeness but little else. “Whistling past the graveyard,” is the way someone put it.
That was reflected the next day in a spate of smarmy columns that questioned the nerve of those trying to spin the faltering former first lady-cum-New York senator into a continuing threat to her Illinois counterpart whose eloquent, almost messianic promises to save the soul of America have made him the newest rock star of American politics.
What did these giants of the new and old journalism think Ickes and Singer were there to do? Concede that their candidate was in serious trouble? It was as though the press veterans of a dozen campaigns had forgotten the rules of these political dueling matches that are such an integral part of the process. It’s called “you try to snow me while I try to get you to admit that you haven’t a chance.” The whole business is frequently an arcane exercise in numbers and utterly boring.
Honesty never has been the stream down which the press and politics flow. As close as Ickes came to conceding to the perspective of his questioners was to admit that if Clinton loses in Ohio and Texas next Tuesday “she will have to make a decision …” That is hardly startling, although it sent bloggers scurrying to their computers.
Perhaps the most accurate assessment of what is happening to Clinton’s hopes of breaking the glass ceiling of presidential politics came from the now-legendary “Saturday Night Live” show where the unbalanced treatment of her was portrayed in a scathingly comic debate skit. She has used that as further documentation that her complaints are legitimate.
While she is as vulnerable as anyone would be who has been under the microscope of national politics for nearly 20 years, she is also correct in charging that Obama should receive the same attention. He should not be given a free pass as he dazzles the voters with his on-camera charm. What’s he like off-camera? Who knows? He has made it increasingly difficult for the press to find out, offering very little of himself outside the formal appearances.
What little is known about his tenure in the Illinois legislature, other than the fact he tended to vote “present” on crucial issues, is unimpressive. It is problematic how many Illinois voters really know their man despite the fact they sent him to the U.S. Senate, where he has spent little time since, preferring to convince us that he is now ready to solve the world’s problems, although he never has really faced many of them.
There is little doubt that Clinton’s frustrations and anger at the way this is going are highlighted much more frequently than Obama’s gaffes. Mistakes in his oration appear to be pretty much overlooked even during the debates. One would almost think he is flawless, sharpening the near-religious aura that seems to surround him.
In the last debate, his mispronouncing of “Massachusetts” stood uncorrected, but she was asked to identify and pronounce the name of Vladimir Putin’s second-in-command. She fumbled slightly on his last name. Television showed a clip unflattering to Clinton and the moderator apologized that a similar one for Obama had been left off. Nevertheless, he then asked Obama to comment on her clip.
There probably is no further evidence needed as to what is going on here. But she may have only herself to blame. When she was riding high, she was often imperious in her press dealings. She is now paying for that, as unfair as it may be.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)