It’s kind of creepy that the network anchors are tagging along after Barack Obama on his great overseas adventure.
When John McCain went to Iraq after he cinched the GOP nomination, the media was so infatuated with the Democratic primary that little attention was paid to McCain’s trip even though he insists we must keep our troops there and refuses to discuss a timetable for withdrawal. (In Iraq McCain’s insistence that security had improved was a little embarrassing when 43 people were killed and 73 seriously injured in a bombing. Then in Jordan he falsely said Iran is aiding and abetting al-Qaeda in Iraq.)
The TV anchors (although many Americans now see them as anachronistic) are still at the top of the heap of the rapidly declining media elite in America. For them to follow him across the ocean on his get-acquainted tour is a bit too fawning. It’s a pure violation of the rapidly disappearing rule that the media is at least supposed to try to appear fair and balanced.
This race is too close to call — only a truly inexperienced journalist would predict with certainty that Obama will win even though the economy is tanking. We all know that the fall campaign will get ugly. Third parties will question Obama’s patriotism because of his meaningless middle name. John McCain’s greater national security experience will sway voters. Obama, who is only halfway through his first term in the Senate, will charge that a McCain presidency would be a third Bush term.
If McCain wins in November, it will not be because the TV networks cut him any slack. Analyses show that so far this summer (even before Obama’s trip), they devoted almost two and a half times more time to Obama coverage than to stories about McCain.
The networks say they are excited about Obama’s trip because he is new and interesting, because the whole world wants to see how he handles foreign policy issues while abroad, because it’s his first big trip as the presumptive Democratic nominee. Also, the Obama campaign suggested that the network biggies interview their candidate while he is traveling abroad; afraid to get "beat," they all scurried to say "yes, let’s talk." (This is also about the continuing network effort to make their anchors stars.)
So what can we Americans expect from Obama’s trip?
Crowds are likely to be big wherever he goes. There is immense interest in and curiosity about Obama abroad. Already, countries he won’t visit (such as Lebanon and Ireland) are complaining they are being ignored. The Wall Street Journal reported there is deep controversy in Germany about Obama’s request to use the historic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin for what many see as a campaign rally.
Obama will visit with both Israeli and Palestinian politicians, always a tricky tightrope walk. Also, he has to convey his support for the Iraqi people without seeming to doom them to even more chaos by his plan to withdraw U.S. troops 16 months after taking office. (He may hope to do that, but most experts believe the reality is that Americans will be in Iraq for years.) In Afghanistan, he must confront the resurgent Taliban.
There is only so much news Obama can make. (It’s an unwritten rule that presidential candidates do not make a big deal of harshly criticizing current U.S. foreign policy while traveling abroad, but he will be pressured to do so.) Preparing for his trip, Obama discussed cyber-security, nuclear nonproliferation and bioterrorism with experts. (It should come as no surprise that he’s for the first two and against the third.)
Obama is a captivating speaker, but often his style outflashes what he says. For example, "America cannot afford another president who doesn’t understand the threats that confront us." On the other hand, if Obama makes a gaffe, the whole world will know.
The Obama campaign is convinced the trip will be a win-win for their man. The network anchors think it will be a win-win for them, too. The rest of us will wait and see.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)