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The Washington Post's Election Coverage:

Deborah Howell, the Washington Post's ombudsman, assesses the paper's campaign coverage:

The Post provided a lot of good campaign coverage, but readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts.

According to Howell, the Post's coverage was too poll-drive and "horse-race" news stories outnumbered issues-oriented stories over the past year by two-to-one. The balance of positive and negative coverage of the two candidates was equally lopsided in both the news and op-ed pages. Howell offers this explanation:

Post reporters, photographers and editors -- like most of the national news media -- found the candidacy of Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, more newsworthy and historic. Journalists love the new; McCain, 25 years older than Obama, was already well known and had more scars from his longer career in politics.

Because Post reporters "love the new" they offered favorable coverage of Sarah Palin, right? Not exactly. Here's Howell's take on the Post's coverage of the veep candidates:

One gaping hole in coverage involved Joe Biden, Obama's running mate. When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought The Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden. They are right; it was a serious omission. However, I do not agree with those readers who thought The Post did only hatchet jobs on her. There were several good stories on her, the best on page 1 by Sally Jenkins on how Palin grew up in Alaska.

MartyA:
Did we ever get a reason why all the missing documents, i.e., medical records, transcripts, thesis or birth certificate, were not worth following up on? Or whether a black Republican candidate with such an thin resume and so many criminal friends would get such friendly treatment?
11.8.2008 2:00pm
Splunge:
Full CYA mode, I see. The right would like to say Ha ha, too late, guys. Americans will never trust you again after such naked partisanship.

But I don't think it's that way. The generic American is far less interested in the truth than in what re-inforces his worldview. The Post will only suffer if they remain an Obama mouthpiece after his Administration becomes unpopular. And they're much too smart and ethically flexible for that.

It's craigslist that's killing old media, not their ethical corruption.
11.8.2008 2:10pm
MCM (mail):
"When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought The Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden."

Is this not somewhat explained by the fact that Biden has been a sitting senator for 35 years, with easily accessible information of all sorts regarding his time there? I'm guessing that over the six times he ran for Senate, most of the interesting stuff was covered.

By contrast, wouldn't Palin require more reporting? Hardly anyone even knew who she was.
11.8.2008 2:16pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
If you subscribe to the Washington Post, unsubscribe. The same goes for the NYT, LAT, SF Chron, etc. All of the liberal papers--stop giving them money to spread lies.
11.8.2008 2:17pm
Malvolio:
"When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought The Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden."

Is this not somewhat explained by the fact that Biden has been a sitting senator for 35 years, with easily accessible information of all sorts regarding his time there?
So your theory is, reporting on Biden would have been too easy?

While I certainly like to imagine that there are a lot energetic, enterprising reporters out there just dying to tackle the really tough stories and if they have a flaw, it's neglecting the story they can file from their desks, by and large, there aren't.

Let's stop play-acting. The vast majority of old-media employees wanted Obama to win and consciously or unconsciously slanted their coverage towards that end. That's the way it is, and it's unlikely to change any time soon. Republicans: deal with it and stop whining. Democrats: either gloat or deny, but stop doing both.
11.8.2008 2:26pm
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm

Well this was predictable. They burned their credibility during the election and now they're trying to bring it back.

No thanks.
11.8.2008 2:31pm
Commenterlein (mail):
There seems to be an implicit assumption here that both candidate teams were of equal quality and behavior and therefore deserved roughly equal numbers of positive and negative stories. I don't think that assumption holds up to reality.

Look, McCain ran a bad and disorganized campaign and annointed an unqualified ignoramus has his running mate in order to get the social conservative base excited. In light of this, why would we want to see as many negative stories about Obama as about McCain?

I understand that many here view Obama as even more flawed than McCain. That's fine, even though imho wrong. But without settling this question, there seems to be little point in arguing about media bias.
11.8.2008 2:48pm
jab:
regarding the disparate ratio of positive to negative stories for each campaign... could it simply be that there were more negative stories about mccain/palin because mccain ran a horrible campaign, showed poor judgement in everything from picking palin without vetting her, "suspending" his campaign, etc. they got more negative coverage because their campaign deserved it.
11.8.2008 2:54pm
Waldensian (mail):
I await the equivalent assessment from the Fox News ombudsman.
11.8.2008 3:09pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Malvolio,

No, the assumption is not that reporting on Joe Biden would have been too easy; the assumption is that both the press and the public are already reasonably familiar with Biden, who has been a Senator since 1972, serves in prominent roles in the Senate, and has twice run for President, than with Palin, who was unknown outside of Alaska.
11.8.2008 3:10pm
Tom Perkins (mail):

Look, McCain ran a bad and disorganized campaign and annointed an unqualified ignoramus has his running mate in order to get the social conservative base excited.


Palin is every bit if not more qualified for the Presidency than the man elected. He has been a student newspaper editor, a community organizer, and a senator mostly voting present.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
11.8.2008 3:11pm
jab:
Mr. Perkins,

Sorry, but only you and Bill Kristol are drinking that kool-aid.
11.8.2008 3:15pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
(slowly shaking time-weary head in hesitant recognition of the hard truth):

"Lord, this isn't the WAPO I knew..."

-her column and a metro card will get you on the "C" train.
11.8.2008 3:18pm
Johnny Canuck (mail):
Bill Poser,
"familiarity" for the public equals boring for the reporter, and his editor. If editors are unlikely to rerun the same story, why would reporters keep writing it?
11.8.2008 3:23pm
Cornellian (mail):
Biden would have had to show up for a press conference naked to get television reporters to attend. Yet another white guy who's been in the Senate forever just isn't a news story in the way that an attractive young woman from Alaska is a news story.
11.8.2008 3:36pm
Dan M.:
And the New York Times needed to put Cindy McCain's drug problems on the front page, too, because that wasn't an old story. Cindy McCain's drug problems were much more important than anything about Biden's background or Obama's.
11.8.2008 3:45pm
Jaime non-Lawyer:
To argue that there was no need to report on Biden because he is a longtime senator is bogus. If you are from Delaware or a political junkie, then, yes, you probably know him well. However, to most of the voting public, he is likely still an unknown relative to Palin.
11.8.2008 3:46pm
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
In March, the WaPo's ombud couldn't find much of anything wrong with the WaPo's immigration coverage either, which is pretty funny considering that they've consistently offered biased and false coverage of that issue.

This article is along the same lines. I list several cases of the WaPo lying, misleading, and/or smearing for Obama here.
11.8.2008 4:29pm
TerrencePhilip:
Biden's history of plagiarism charges going to back to law school, and his numerous public gaffes, were worthy of more coverage than they got. Certainly if Palin had said many of the goofball things Biden said it's hard to think they would've been brushed over.
11.8.2008 4:42pm
PersonFromPorlock:
MCM:

Is this not somewhat explained by the fact that Biden has been a sitting senator for 35 years, with easily accessible information of all sorts regarding his time there? I'm guessing that over the six times he ran for Senate, most of the interesting stuff was covered.

Not nationally, though.
11.8.2008 4:49pm
hawkins:

If you subscribe to the Washington Post, unsubscribe. The same goes for the NYT, LAT, SF Chron, etc. All of the liberal papers--stop giving them money to spread lies.


Since when is LA Times "liberal"?
11.8.2008 4:55pm
Cornellian (mail):
To argue that there was no need to report on Biden because he is a longtime senator is bogus. If you are from Delaware or a political junkie, then, yes, you probably know him well. However, to most of the voting public, he is likely still an unknown relative to Palin.

I didn't express any opinion as to whether there was a "need" to cover Biden. I was saying that it's easy to see why journalists and editors would consider stories about Palin (pro or con) to be "news" while stories about Biden (pro or con) were not. Especially television journalists.
11.8.2008 5:09pm
theobromophile (www):
There is a lot of circular reasoning going on here: Palin deserved the negative reports because she was a bad choice. People, most of the reason you think she's a bad choice is because of the absolute beating she took from the media.

I would be more than willing to entertain the idea of this being actual logic, but for the fact that Palin's detractors read the lies, didn't read the corrections, and have no idea how popular she was in Alaska. They believe the stuff about the rape kits; she wasn't exonerated from the ridiculous TaserGate scandal until the day before the election; she had an 80-90% approval rating, and 75% of Democrats - her political opponents! - thought that she was doing a good job in Alaska; her work with the pipeline ended 30 years of inaction; and, of course, her pre-gubernatorial jobs weren't limited to sportscasting and mayorships.

We all know that Palin spent six years to get through college. What most people don't know is that, in addition to being a star athlete in high school, she was an honours student (and on her school's honour society). IIRC, she was PBK or similar at one of her colleges, before she left (in part for financial reasons). What no one bothers to mention is that Joe Biden graduated near the bottom of his class at University of Delaware (550ish out of 650ish, IIRC) and something like 76 out of 85 at a second-rate law school. Academic all-star he is not, but everyone focused on the fact that Sarah Palin didn't get through college in four years and entered a beauty pageant to help pay for it.

If Palin's detractors had a clue, yeah, it would make sense to say that the coverage is based, in part, on relative merit. When you actually compare the candidates, their records, and their accomplishments with each other and with the image presented in the media, it becomes clear that the press gave itself the job of running Palin into the ground, reality be damned.

Consider me someone still waiting for one of the Obama-supporting Palin-haters to possess actual knowledge about her background, and give a coherent argument as to why she's not qualified for VP while their guy should be running the largest corporation on earth.
11.8.2008 5:12pm
Constantin:
Setting aside the let's-not-dig-too-deep coverage of Obama that's evident to everybody, how many voters know their new VP is a serial plagiarist and, even more bizarre, basically an identity thief? Less than a fifth, I'd bet. Probably warranted some coverage.
11.8.2008 5:15pm
RPT (mail):
"MartyA:

Did we ever get a reason why all the missing documents, i.e., medical records, transcripts, thesis or birth certificate, were not worth following up on?"

This is pretty silly stuff, particularly since we are still waiting on the McCain and Palin medical records, which were much more revelant. Obama's birth certificate status was properly vouched for by the State of Hawaii. You will never be satisfied with the results. Do you think that you are entitled to see his transcripts or his thesis, or that anyone else in the electorate cares, except for Smokey and others who believe that Obama did not really perform well in college? This election depended on his thesis? Wow.
11.8.2008 5:25pm
fat tony (mail):
In Howell's defense, she is correct to say that not ALL of the Post's stories on Palin were hatchet jobs.
11.8.2008 6:09pm
Cheaper Trolls, Ltd:
Since when is LA Times "liberal"?


Newspapers are liberal.

Reading is liberal.

 

 

©2008 Cheaper Trolls™
11.8.2008 6:10pm
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
Regarding the LAT's coverage, they have a multi-year habit of covering up for L.A.'s mayor, who's a former MEChA leader. Even after he'd somewhat renounced the group, the LAT was still covering up for him. The reader can decide whether things like that are "liberal" or not. Another explanation is that the mayor is good for business interests to which the paper is linked and, like many other "liberals" they're hiding behind other things to gain money and power.

As for RPT's comments, I believe Palin's medical records were released.

Obama's birth certificate status was properly vouched for by the State of Hawaii.

Not really: 24ahead.com/blog/archives/008271.html
11.8.2008 6:34pm
Bob in SeaTac (mail):
Joe Biden is a liar, a plagiarizer, a blowhard, and not very smart. But those are his good points.

Why wouldn't the press jump on all his serial gaffes? Well, I think just because he's been in the Senate 35+ years, they think he's got to be smart, plus, he speaks forcefully even when he knows nothing of what he's talking about. The MSM never needs to examine a "foreign policy expert" who forcefully states France kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, and NATO should step up its efforts in the Middle East. Sad, sad, sad. Is it any wonder the newspapers are going under?
11.8.2008 6:41pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

There seems to be an implicit assumption here that both candidate teams were of equal quality and behavior and therefore deserved roughly equal numbers of positive and negative stories. I don't think that assumption holds up to reality.



I agree. It makes the bias even more dramatic: the less qualified, more corrupt team should have received the majority of the negative coverage.
11.8.2008 6:55pm
Doo Dad Pro (mail) (www):
"One gaping hole in coverage involved Joe Biden, ...."

/HUMOR_ON

Maybe the Washington Post is trying to tell us that Joe Biden is the "goatse.cx" man ???

/HUMOR_OFF

SFW ... The link goes to the Wikipedia Article not to the 'real' goatse.cx
11.8.2008 7:02pm
Crimso:

the assumption is that both the press and the public are already reasonably familiar with Biden, who has been a Senator since 1972


Oh sure. Everbody knows about Biden. My wife is 7 years younger than I, and was in high school in 1988. Until I mentioned Biden's plagiarism several weeks ago, she was utterly unaware of it. Sure, the info was out there. But it certainly wasn't anything the MSM was going to draw attention to, lest younger people find out something distasteful about the foreign policy "expert." Wonder whether plagiarism by Palin would have been airbrushed...
11.8.2008 9:31pm
Laura S.:
Right, you've got to wonder about this, "These guys have been around so long we all know all about them." Didn't Obama win on the shoulders of the youth-vote?

The Post's very slanted story about Obama's Tax Cuts basically laid the ground work for smearing McCain on the "Obama will raise Taxes" ads. It was a front-page story too, and one the critical maneuvers to break McCain's post nomination momentum.
11.8.2008 10:05pm
davod (mail):
"Did we ever get a reason why all the missing documents, i.e., medical records, transcripts, thesis or birth certificate, were not worth following up on?"

The greater probem is that there only three constitional requirements to be President that the canddate has personal resonsibility for:

"No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States."

We now have a situation where a President-Elect has not provided proof of the most basic qualification to be President.

Those who have raised this issue have been ridiculed by political parties and in the media and in the blogosphere.

However, do we really want the SCOTUS having to decide the constituninality of sitting someone who does not meet the requirementslaid down in the constitution. Do we want the Congress enacting a quick Constitional amendment to solve this problem?
11.9.2008 1:41am
davod (mail):
"No, the assumption is not that reporting on Joe Biden would have been too easy; the assumption is that both the press and the public are already reasonably familiar with Biden, who has been a Senator since 1972, serves in prominent roles in the Senate, and has twice run for President, than with Palin, who was unknown outside of Alaska."

The media did not take the most basic steps of reprising Biden's history of plagiarism and serious mistatements. Nor did the media keep the public informed of Biden's mistatements and outright lies during the debate and on the campaign trail.*

This is news.
11.9.2008 1:47am
davod (mail):
"This is pretty silly stuff, particularly since we are still waiting on the McCain and Palin medical records, which were much more revelant. " liar
11.9.2008 1:51am
Dan M.:
Seriously, why were Palin's medical records relevant? Because Andrew Sullivan doesn't believe that Trig is really her son? Regardless, we did get a signed statement from her doctor that dispelled that rumor, but not the actual medical records.

Isn't Obama's lifetime of smoking and one-time use of hard drugs a relevant reason to want to see his actual medical records?
11.9.2008 3:47am
davod (mail):
"Isn't Obama's lifetime of smoking and one-time use of hard drugs"

Is this an attempt at minimization. I have not heard that he minimized his use of illegal drugs to one time.
11.9.2008 7:56am
Metoo:
Yes, just as I suspected. In the aftermath of the election, the press will get busy and acquit themselves of the charge of unbalanced coverage and favoring one candidate over the other.
11.9.2008 9:45am
zippypinhead:
Dog bites man story here, methinks. The Washington Post behaved exactly like the rest of the mainstream media - on a not-irregular basis they collectively become addled by feeding frenzies on the topic of the day. Remember Monica Lewinsky? I seem to recall a lot of carping by Clinton partisans at the time that [even] WaPo drank the kool-aid in its panting coverage of the events, and was alleged to have provided more than a little fuel for the Impeachment fires.

WaPo, frankly, is no worse than any other media organ in its political coverage. Which is to say it earned no more than a "c-" grade in this Presidential election cycle.

But if you're looking for bias at the Post, there are even worse I find the WaPo coverage of controversial local issues to be a lot more facially biased than
11.9.2008 11:49am
zippypinhead:
doh... hit the wrong button prematurely. Such a pinhead...

Just wanted to point out that WaPo's LOCAL coverage is significantly less disciplined than its national coverage. I suspect that's probably due to having younger, less-well-paid and generally lower-quality reporters and editors on its Metro beat. Also probably not a unique problem with the WaPo.

Final thought: Remember the political demographic of the core of WaPo's readership: 93% of D.C. voted Dem for Pres, and clear majorities of both the Maryland and Virginia suburban circulation areas did too. They're writing for a particular audience. Sad, but a fact of life...
11.9.2008 11:53am
gab:
What was the Wall Street Journal's ombudsman's take on their coverage?
11.9.2008 1:30pm
Cheaper Trolls, Ltd:
What was the Wall Street Journal's ombudsman's take on their coverage?


Did you know that “ombudsmen” originated in Sweden? Yeah. It's true—check it out. And you know Sweden is a socialist country.

So, I'll let you in on little secret: Ombudsmen are a socialist plot.

You need more proof than their Swedish origin? How many ombudsmen do you find on AM talk radio? Huh?

There you go. You betcha.

 

 

©2008 Cheaper Trolls™
11.9.2008 2:44pm
Laura S.:
The Swedish people are the most capitalist on average of any that I've met. Seriously.

One consequence: the tax burden in Sweden is much more proportional than it is in the US.
11.9.2008 4:40pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The real reason for the ombudsman's report is that she is a whining wingnut who can't believe her side lost.
Or she's right.
11.10.2008 12:06am
Sagar:
theobromophile,

add to the list the idiots who are parroting the lie that Palin didn't know that Africa is a continent.
11.10.2008 12:45am
davod (mail):
"One consequence: the tax burden in Sweden is much more proportional than it is in the US."

Rubbish.
11.10.2008 5:18am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Michael Malone
William Bunch.
Now Howell.

Getting harder and harder to deny. Since the folks who had a dog in the fight--or who had a lot to gain by not being found out--are admitting it.

They might have had an attack of conscience.

Or they may have decided that they spent their credibility wisely, since, with Obama and some form of Fairness Doctrine, in action if not in name, they're saved. Nothing the proles can do about it now.
11.10.2008 8:15am
eddie (mail):
The metrics used to delineate whether coverage was positive or negative really needs to be fully explained before any reasoned conclusion might be made. But if a demonstrably false or misleading statement is made by a candidate and the reporting sets the record straight, is that negative coverage?

If you look at the op-ed space usage in the Post I dare say there was a finger on the scale favoring conservatives.

Never heard any of this self-searching criticism in 2000 or 2004 when press coverage was significantly more "skewed." Who invented that internet? Who didn't deserve his purple hearts?

Sour grapes still are going to make a drinkable wine.
11.10.2008 11:48am
Cheaper Trolls, Ltd:
... if a demonstrably false or misleading statement is made by a candidate and the reporting sets the record straight, is that negative coverage?


Yes.

Negative coverage is writing anything negative about a candidate, or the candidate's position, or the candidate's campaign, or the candidate's anything at all. Negative coverage is negative coverage. Bad words are bad words.

Sheesh. What's so hard to understand about working the refs? It's as American as baseball.

The media is lucky people aren't out there really screaming at them, “Kill the Ump!”

What a stupid question. Have an apple pie in the face, ya idiot.

 

 

©2008 Cheaper Trolls™
11.10.2008 2:30pm
Skip Magly (mail):
Okay, Washington Post, now that you're own ombudsman has admitted what most of us have known for YEARS. What do YOU intend to do about it. The MOS important words in Journalism are WHO, WHAT, WHY and WHEN. I don't care about the outlets or the REPORTERS own personal biases, that is why you have an Op-Ed section. Reporters REPORT Period end of subject, they do not allow there own personal bisaes to creep into their reporting and they do NOT favor one side over another, that is NOT their job, nor is it the job of the various Editors. Fortunately for the Post, you are NOT alone. But you have contributed greatly to damaging the Journalistic profession, now what do YOU intend to do to go about restoring not only the Post's credibility but the credibilkity of the profession. I know what I would do were I in your shoes, but want to know what YOU intend to do about it.

Skip
11.11.2008 12:15am
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Maybe Palin got more negative stories because she is an ignorant doofus put on the ticket to appeal to libidinous so-called conservative pundits?

Libertarian Norah Vincent:

There are two reasons why I didn't vote for John McCain. The first is that I think he is a man of brittle intellect and doctrinaire sensibility. These are potentially fatal flaws that he shares with the current president, flaws incidentally, that Obama does not share. In fact, Obama's intellectual curiosity and suppleness of mind is, in my view, one of his biggest selling points, whatever your political beliefs.

The second reason I didn't vote for McCain is -- big surprise here -- Sarah Palin. Christopher Hitchens was right on the money when he called her a "proud, boastful ignoramus," though I would go further. She is a belligerent ignoramus. The resounding theme of her candidacy was a shamefully rabble-rousing, nauseatingly populist denunciation of knowledge, intellectual expression and reasoned debate, all apparently the vicious province of the media elite and not the hard and hardy backbone of the "real" America.

Watching her made me sick, and the thought of her ascending to the highest office in the land on the possible demise of her less-than-robust 72-year-old boss was not something I could live with. A vote for him was, in all likelihood, a vote for her, and I just couldn't do it.
11.11.2008 7:32am