With his poll numbers dropping like dissidents in Syria, President Barack Obama has to be hoping the national media will continue to help him out. Last time around, the network news organizations swooned over the junior senator from Illinois and marginalized his opponent, Sen. John McCain, as much as possible.
According to a new study by the conservative Media Research Center, the president has some reason to be optimistic about the media in 2012. The group examined the morning shows on ABC, CBS and NBC in order to ascertain campaign attitudes. The headlines are these:
— So far in 2011, morning network correspondents have labeled Republican candidates as conservative 49 times. But only once have they referred to Obama as a liberal.
— By a four-to-one margin, the morning show hosts have used adversarial questioning against Republican interview subjects as compared to Democratic guests.
— The morning programs routinely run positive “human interest” stories about the president and his family. No Republican contender has received that kind of coverage.
The conclusion reached by the MRC is that the morning programs are not likely to “cheerlead” for the Obama campaign as some did in 2008. Instead, they will be more likely to scrutinize his Republican opposition.
Having worked at both CBS News and ABC News, I can tell you there is a managerial culture that is decidedly liberal. Some places are worse than others. Under Dan Rather, the CBS landscape was openly left. Under the late Peter Jennings, ABC News was more politically correct than agenda-driven. Jennings did not like political advocacy on either side.
Americans can expect a vicious campaign next year. The Republican candidate will have to go after Obama on his record, and that will bring hard blowback. Obama, himself, rarely uses personal attacks. But some of his supporters, especially on the Internet, certainly do. Gutter sniping will be all over the place.
Last time around, McCain did not take the fight to Obama, preferring to highlight his own experience for the country. That was a mistake that the Democrats exploited. Sen. Obama’s political record was weak; he was essentially running on charisma. Instead of pinning him down on specific solutions to targeted problems, McCain allowed his young opponent to dazzle the public with rhetoric.
This time around, the Republicans have cold, hard facts to present to the American people. And the only answer to those damning statistics is diversion, pettifogging the issue with ginned up controversy and smoke.
We can expect the national media to embrace the pettifog and flog it all morning (and evening). The media are loath to admit any mistakes, and their support of Obama is on the record. There is little chance the Republican challenger will receive fair and balanced coverage.
Will media support for the president be enough to give him the edge in 2012? If the vote is close, the answer most likely is yes.