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Archive for November 2008

Washington Post: We Were Biased Toward Obama

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Deborah Howell, the ombudsman for the Washington Post, wrote a column in Sunday’s paper stating that the Post’s coverage of the presidential campaign was lopsided in favor of president elect-Sen. Barack Obama.

My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 of last year on issues, voters, fundraising, the candidates’ backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants. We also have looked at photos and Page 1 stories since Obama captured the nomination June 4.

The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories. The Post was deficient in stories that reported more than the two candidates trading jabs; readers needed articles, going back to the primaries, comparing their positions with outside experts’ views. There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues.

Bill Hamilton, assistant managing editor for politics, said, “There are a lot of things I wish we’d been able to do in covering this campaign, but we had to make choices about what we felt we were uniquely able to provide our audiences both in Washington and on the Web. I don’t at all discount the importance of issues, but we had a larger purpose, to convey and explain a campaign that our own David Broder described as the most exciting he has ever covered, a narrative that unfolded until the very end. I think our staff rose to the occasion.”

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces about McCain, 58, than there were about Obama, 32, and Obama got the editorial board’s endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain.

Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Reporters, photographers and editors 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.

She also noted that it didn’t stop there. The coverage of Gov. Sarah Palin was exhaustive, while vice president elect-Sen. Joe Biden was virtually ignored.

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.

It’s a tough and honest self-assessment of one of the most influential newspapers on the planet. It’s also indicative of the most papers in America. As noted before, press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so. But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable, and has become more so over time. In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one—the most unfavorable of all four candidates, according to the study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

How much impact the media had on Obama’s election is anyone’s guess. Would McCain had won if the media was more balanced in its reporting? How would have Obama been perceived by the public had the media portrayed McCain as a solid leader with years of experience and Obama as a newcomer with limited exposure on the national stage? No one knows.

But what the media can do from this point on is be a fair watchdog of the Obama administration. Some commentators have already professed their loyalty to Obama, which is a mistake for anyone in journalism. After the run-up to the Iraq war, the media was rightly criticized for not being aggressive enough in questioning President Bush’s plan. The same is true now. Given the fact that there will be virtually no congressional opposition to the White House in this era of endless buyouts and foreign threats, it’s up to the media to examine President Obama’s proposals in the coming years. A Democrat-controlled Congress will not shine the light on any Obama proposal, so the media must. The public deserves no less.

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Written by newscycle

November 10, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Washington Post: We Were Biased for Obama

with one comment


Deborah Howell, the ombudsman for the Washington Post, wrote a column in Sunday’s paper stating that the Post’s coverage of the presidential campaign was lopsided in favor of president elect-Sen. Barack Obama.

My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 of last year on issues, voters, fundraising, the candidates’ backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants. We also have looked at photos and Page 1 stories since Obama captured the nomination June 4.

The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories. The Post was deficient in stories that reported more than the two candidates trading jabs; readers needed articles, going back to the primaries, comparing their positions with outside experts’ views. There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues.

Bill Hamilton, assistant managing editor for politics, said, “There are a lot of things I wish we’d been able to do in covering this campaign, but we had to make choices about what we felt we were uniquely able to provide our audiences both in Washington and on the Web. I don’t at all discount the importance of issues, but we had a larger purpose, to convey and explain a campaign that our own David Broder described as the most exciting he has ever covered, a narrative that unfolded until the very end. I think our staff rose to the occasion.”

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces about McCain, 58, than there were about Obama, 32, and Obama got the editorial board’s endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain.

Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Reporters, photographers and editors 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.

She also noted that it didn’t stop there. The coverage of Gov. Sarah Palin was exhaustive, while vice president elect-Sen. Joe Biden was virtually ignored.

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.

It’s a tough and honest self-assessment of one of the most influential newspapers on the planet. It’s also indicative of the most papers in America. As noted before, press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so. But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable, and has become more so over time. In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one—the most unfavorable of all four candidates, according to the study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

How much impact the media had on Obama’s election is anyone’s guess. Would McCain had won if the media was more balanced in its reporting? How would have Obama been perceived by the public had the media portrayed McCain as a solid leader with years of experience and Obama as a newcomer with limited exposure on the national stage? No one knows.

But what the media can do from this point on is be a fair watchdog of the Obama administration. Some commentators have already professed their loyalty to Obama, which is a mistake for anyone in journalism. After the run-up to the Iraq war, the media was rightly criticized for not being aggressive enough in questioning President Bush’s plan. The same is true now. Given the fact that there will be virtually no congressional opposition to the White House in this era of endless buyouts and foreign threats, it’s up to the media to examine President Obama’s proposals in the coming years. A Democrat-controlled Congress will not shine the light on any Obama proposal, so the media must. The public deserves no less.

Written by newscycle

November 10, 2008 at 9:12 am

Posted in Obama, Washington Post

The Palin Pile-On: Is It Good Journalism or Just Good Gossip?

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FOX’s Carl Cameron’s report on “The O’Reilly Factor” has opened some questions about the inner workings of the McCain organization, especially relating to Gov. Sarah Palin and a possible ugly rift within the campaign. But it also gives pause to the use of unnamed sources.

After that was aired, Greta Van Susteren talked to Politico’s Alex Burns about this issue, defending Palin. She also talked on air with Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, who refuted the claims. The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller wrote on the rift as well. The story uses a number of unnamed sources, but talks about the backlash as well:

Advisers in the McCain campaign, in suggesting that Palin advisors had been leaking damaging information about the McCain campaign to the news media, said they were particularly suspicious of Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain’s top foreign policy aide who had a central role in preparing Ms. Palin for the vice-presidential debate.

As a result, two senior members of the McCain campaign said on Wednesday that Mr. Scheunemann had been fired from the campaign in its final days. But Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, and Mr. Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers, said Wednesday that Mr. Scheunemann had in fact not been dismissed. Mr. Scheunemann, who picked up the phone in his office at McCain campaign headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, responded that “anybody who says I was fired is either lying or delusional or a whack job.”

Newsweek’s web election recap also is mostly based on anonymous comments from campaign advisers, ut it takes a different tone and and concentrates on ligitimate subject matters.

The disclosures are among many revealed in “How He Did It, 2008,” the latest installment in NEWSWEEK’s Special Election Project, which was first published in 1984. As in the previous editions, “How He Did It, 2008” is an inside, behind-the-scenes account of the presidential election produced by a special team of reporters working for more than a year on an embargoed basis and detached from the weekly magazine and Newsweek.com. Everything the project team learns is kept confidential until the day after the polls close.

This is classic study in the use of unnamed sources and the problems that practice might cause. When journalists use an unnamed source, it’s usually for the purpose of gaining some kind of information we couldn’t receive on the record. Anonymous sources should only be used when we cannot report on information that is reliable and newsworthy otherwise.

So, the question becomes, are the Palin stories truly newsworthy? Or is it rather a case of CYA by the McCain staff? In my book, the Palin reports are pure gossip, and mean-spirited gossip at that. She couldn’t name the countries in NAFTA? I’d bet 98 percent of Americans couldn’t. She didn’t know Africa was a continent? Well, that is a bit embarrassing, but once again, unfortunately we are a nation of geography-ignorant people. Did she come out of her bathroom in a towel? Most people do after a shower. There might have been an explanation. She might have not known the aides were there, and then it would be the aides’ fault, not hers. But we don’t know, because anonymous sources only give one side of a story.

The Newsweek article, on the other hand, sticks to issues. Here’s a taste ot its writing:

The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied. Michelle Obama was shaken by the vituperative crowds and the hot rhetoric from the GOP candidates. “Why would they try to make people hate us?” Michelle asked a top campaign aide.

On the Sunday night before the last debate, McCain’s core group of advisers—Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, adman Fred Davis, strategist Greg Strimple, pollster Bill McInturff and strategy director Sarah Simmons—met to decide whether to tell McCain that the race was effectively over, that he no longer had a chance to win. The consensus in the room was no, not yet, not while he still had “a pulse.”

The Obama campaign’s New Media experts created a computer program that would allow a “flusher”—the term for a volunteer who rounds up nonvoters on Election Day—to know exactly who had, and had not, voted in real time. They dubbed it Project Houdini, because of the way names disappear off the list instantly once people are identified as they wait in line at their local polling station.

Palin launched her attack on Obama’s association with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground bomber, before the campaign had finalized a plan to raise the issue. McCain’s advisers were working on a strategy that they hoped to unveil the following week, but McCain had not signed off on it, and top adviser Mark Salter was resisting.

The point is that the Palin stories serve no purpose other than to smear someone and provide giggles. It’s especially distasteful to kick someone when they are down. And she is a person who has been kicked around enough in the past few months, whether it is her email account being hacked or attacks on her family.

This certainly is not one of our finest moments in journalism. Are we supposed to feel proud of reporting like this? It’s this type of reporting that makes our readers and viewers despise us at times.

Written by newscycle

November 8, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Palin

Tagged with ,

Palin Pile-On: Is Using Unnamed Sources Fair, or Is It Just Gossip?

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FOX’s Carl Cameron’s report on “The O’Reilly Factor” has opened some questions about the inner workings of the McCain organization, especially relating to Gov. Sarah Palin and a possible ugly rift within the campaign. But it also gives pause to the use of unnamed sources. Here’s the segment:

The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller wrote on the rift as well. The story uses a number of unnamed sources, but also talks about the backlash of the reports:

Advisers in the McCain campaign, in suggesting that Palin advisors had been leaking damaging information about the McCain campaign to the news media, said they were particularly suspicious of Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain’s top foreign policy aide who had a central role in preparing Ms. Palin for the vice-presidential debate.

As a result, two senior members of the McCain campaign said on Wednesday that Mr. Scheunemann had been fired from the campaign in its final days. But Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, and Mr. Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers, said Wednesday that Mr. Scheunemann had in fact not been dismissed. Mr. Scheunemann, who picked up the phone in his office at McCain campaign headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, responded that “anybody who says I was fired is either lying or delusional or a whack job.”

Newsweek’s web election recap also is mostly based on anonymous comments from campaign advisers, but it takes a different tone and and concentrates on ligitimate subject matters. Although at one point it does touch on Palin’s towel incident.

The disclosures are among many revealed in “How He Did It, 2008,” the latest installment in NEWSWEEK’s Special Election Project, which was first published in 1984. As in the previous editions, “How He Did It, 2008” is an inside, behind-the-scenes account of the presidential election produced by a special team of reporters working for more than a year on an embargoed basis and detached from the weekly magazine and Newsweek.com. Everything the project team learns is kept confidential until the day after the polls close.

This is classic study in the use of unnamed sources and the problems that practice might cause. When journalists use an unnamed source, it’s usually for the purpose of gaining some kind of information we couldn’t receive on the record. Anonymous sources should only be used when we cannot report on information that is reliable and newsworthy otherwise.

So, the question becomes, are the Palin stories truly newsworthy? Or is it rather a case of CYA by the McCain staff? In my book, the Palin reports are pure gossip, and mean-spirited gossip at that. She couldn’t name the countries in NAFTA? I’d bet 98 percent of Americans couldn’t. She didn’t know Africa was a continent? Well, that is a bit embarrassing, but once again, unfortunately we are a nation of geography-ignorant people. Did she come out of her bathroom in a towel? Most people do after a shower. There might have been an explanation. She might have not known the aides were there, and then it would be the aides’ fault, not hers. But we don’t know, because anonymous sources only give one side of a story.

The Newsweek article, on the other hand, sticks to issues. Here’s a taste of its writing:

The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied. Michelle Obama was shaken by the vituperative crowds and the hot rhetoric from the GOP candidates. “Why would they try to make people hate us?” Michelle asked a top campaign aide.

On the Sunday night before the last debate, McCain’s core group of advisers—Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, adman Fred Davis, strategist Greg Strimple, pollster Bill McInturff and strategy director Sarah Simmons—met to decide whether to tell McCain that the race was effectively over, that he no longer had a chance to win. The consensus in the room was no, not yet, not while he still had “a pulse.”

The Obama campaign’s New Media experts created a computer program that would allow a “flusher”—the term for a volunteer who rounds up nonvoters on Election Day—to know exactly who had, and had not, voted in real time. They dubbed it Project Houdini, because of the way names disappear off the list instantly once people are identified as they wait in line at their local polling station.

Palin launched her attack on Obama’s association with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground bomber, before the campaign had finalized a plan to raise the issue. McCain’s advisers were working on a strategy that they hoped to unveil the following week, but McCain had not signed off on it, and top adviser Mark Salter was resisting.

The point is that the Palin stories serve no purpose other than to smear someone and provide giggles. It’s especially distasteful to kick someone when they are down. And she is a person who has been kicked around enough in the past few months, whether it is her email account being hacked or attacks on her family.

This certainly is not one of our finest moments in journalism. Are we supposed to feel proud of reporting like this? It’s this type of reporting that makes our readers and viewers despise us at times.

Written by newscycle

November 8, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Terrell (Texas) Newspaper Refuses to Publish Story on Obama’s Election

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First there was the incident where the Rockdale (Ga.) Citizen downplayed the presidential election, but the Terrell (Texas) Tribune took it one step further by not even publishing a presidential election story anywhere.

Byron Harris of WFAA TV in Dallas reports:

Protestors spoke out Thursday against The Terrell Tribune’s decision not to put Barack Obama’s presidential victory on its front page.

The day after Obama was elected as president, the banner headline for the Tribune focused on the county commissioner’s race. The headline read, “Jackson defeats Schoen.”

About 25 residents, who said they had hoped to save the local paper with Obama’s victory noted front page, picketed the newspaper’s office Thursday.

“That’s what I wanted, a keepsake,” said Lera Duncan, who was among the protestors. “And this was very disappointing to me.”

“They could have knocked me over with a feather,” said Sarah Whitaker. “I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t imagine such an historical event would not be on the front page somewhere on The Terrell Tribune.”

Protestors pointed out that on Election Day, the Tribune had printed a John McCain-focused story as their lead story on the front page.

“It’s not the people in the community,” said another protestor. “It’s the paper itself.”

The Terrell Tribune’s publisher, Bill Jordan, declined an on-camera interview.

“We run a newspaper, not a memory book service,” he said. “We covered the local commissioner’s race. We thought that was more important.”

For those who may believe race played a part in the decision, the publisher pointed out that Democrat J.C. Jackson, who was at the center of the main story and who won the race for county commissioner, is an African American.

But while there were a few Obama-related stories within the paper, there was no story devoted to the presidential victory.

Written by newscycle

November 7, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Politics

Tagged with

Terrell (Texas) Newspaper Refuses to Publish Story on Obama’s Election

with one comment


First there was the incident where the Rockdale (Ga.) Citizen downplayed the presidential election, but the Terrell (Texas) Tribune took it one step further by not even publishing a presidential election story anywhere.

Byron Harris of WFAA TV in Dallas reports:

Protestors spoke out Thursday against The Terrell Tribune’s decision not to put Barack Obama’s presidential victory on its front page.

The day after Obama was elected as president, the banner headline for the Tribune focused on the county commissioner’s race. The headline read, “Jackson defeats Schoen.”

About 25 residents, who said they had hoped to save the local paper with Obama’s victory noted front page, picketed the newspaper’s office Thursday.

“That’s what I wanted, a keepsake,” said Lera Duncan, who was among the protestors. “And this was very disappointing to me.”

“They could have knocked me over with a feather,” said Sarah Whitaker. “I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t imagine such an historical event would not be on the front page somewhere on The Terrell Tribune.”

Protestors pointed out that on Election Day, the Tribune had printed a John McCain-focused story as their lead story on the front page.

“It’s not the people in the community,” said another protestor. “It’s the paper itself.”

The Terrell Tribune’s publisher, Bill Jordan, declined an on-camera interview.

“We run a newspaper, not a memory book service,” he said. “We covered the local commissioner’s race. We thought that was more important.”

For those who may believe race played a part in the decision, the publisher pointed out that Democrat J.C. Jackson, who was at the center of the main story and who won the race for county commissioner, is an African American.

But while there were a few Obama-related stories within the paper, there was no story devoted to the presidential victory.

Written by newscycle

November 7, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Election

Unemployment Up to 6.5 Percent; Nonfarm Payroll Off by 240,000

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Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported this morning that nonfarm payroll employment fell by 240,000 in October, and the unemployment rate rose from 6.1 to 6.5 percent. October’s drop in payroll employment followed declines of 127,000 in August and 284,000 in September, as revised. Employment has fallen by 1.2 million in the first 10 months of 2008; over half of the decrease has occurred in the past 3 months. In October, job losses continued in manufacturing, construction, and several service-providing industries. Health care and mining continued to add jobs.

Unemployment (Household Survey Data)
The unemployment rate rose by 0.4 percentage point to 6.5 percent in October, and the number of unemployed persons increased by 603,000 to 10.1 million. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 2.8 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 1.7 percentage points.

The unemployment rates for adult men (6.3 percent), adult women (5.3 percent), whites (5.9 percent), and Hispanics (8.8 percent) rose in October. The jobless rates for teenagers (20.6 percent) and blacks (11.1 percent) were little changed. The unemployment rate for Asians in October was 3.8 percent, not seasonally adjusted.

Among the unemployed, the number of persons who lost their job and did not expect to be recalled to work rose by 615,000 to 4.4 million in October. Over the past 12 months, the size of this group has increased by 1.7 million.

In October, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose by 249,000 to 2.3 million. The long-term unemployed accounted for 22.3 percent of total unemployment. The newly unemployed–those who were jobless fewer than 5 weeks–increased by 212,000 to 3.1 million in October.

Total Employment and the Labor Force (Household Survey Data)
The civilian labor force participation rate (66.1 percent) and the employment-population ratio (61.8 percent) were little changed in October. Since a recent high in December 2006, the employment-population ratio has declined by 1.6 percentage points.

Written by newscycle

November 7, 2008 at 9:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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