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The Selective Media Frequent Flyer Program

Of course this is not evidence of any media favoritism at all:

Senator John McCain’s trip to Iraq last spring was a low-key affair: With his ordinary retinue of reporters following him abroad, the NBC News anchor Brian Williams reported on his arrival in Baghdad from New York, with just two sentences tacked onto the “in other political news” portion of his newscast.

But when Obama heads for Iraq and other locations overseas this summer, Williams is planning to catch up with him in person, as are the other two evening news anchors, Charles Gibson of ABC and Katie Couric of CBS, who, like Williams, are far along in discussions to interview Obama on successive nights.

And while the anchors are jockeying for interviews with Obama at stops along his route, the regulars on the Obama campaign plane will have new seat mates: star political reporters from the major newspapers and magazines who are flocking to catch Obama’s first overseas trip since becoming the presumptive nominee of his party.

The extraordinary coverage of Obama’s trip reflects how the candidate remains an object of fascination in the news media, a built-in feature of being the first African-American presidential nominee for a major political party and a relative newcomer to the national stage.

But the coverage also feeds into concerns in McCain’s campaign, and among Republicans in general, that the media is imbalanced in their coverage of the candidates, just as aides to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton felt during the primary season.

And quite understandably at that. Media executives claim, according to the story, that the reason an Obama trip will get more coverage is because Obama is “a newer, untested politician” and voters will want to see how he handles national security and foreign policy issues. That point, taken in isolation, is understandable but the net result will be for voters to pay more attention to Obama than they do to McCain, and all because of the way that media coverage will be arranged.

This is grossly unfair to the McCain campaign. The old saying that the media does not tell people what to think but does tell them what to think about and the media’s mass coverage of an Obama trip–and its relative non-coverage of McCain’s trips abroad–will definitely serve to tell voters to think more about Obama than they do about McCain. If this effect is accidental, the media does not properly understand its own power and is quite incompetent at wielding it. If the effect is purposeful, however . . . well . . . I guess a lot of those questions concerning media bias are answered, aren’t they?

We have two major candidates for President. One of them is not supposed to receive rock star treatment merely because of media fascination. The race for the Presidency is more important than that.

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