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The accusation is that John McCain has had more negative press than Barack Obama – and rightly this has been put into the context that – by far Obama has run a more positive campaign. Some of the McCain attacks have been so over the top that even Karl Rove had to pull back from them. Undoubtedly McCain has brought much of his negative media coverage on himself. Not forgetting all the crazy behavior at the Palin/McCain rallies. With all the remarks about the liberal media (at the GOP Convention and on the stump) – there has been no one who has been more negatively focused – than the one man campaign run by Hannity of the right-wing press – on Barack Obama. And I believe Palin has done at least two interviews with Sean Hannity – a safe place as the rest of the press is seen as being ‘after her’. It is doubtful that a Romney VP pick would have resulted in talk of the press being after him – because he knows what he is doing. He’s informed and Palin isn’t.

 [..] Reporters obsess about personalities and process, about whose staff are jerks or whether they seem like decent folks, about who has a great stump speech or is funnier in person than they come off in public, about whether Michigan is in play or off the table. This is the flip side of the fact of how much we care about the horse race — we don’t care that much about our own opinions of which candidate would do more for world peace or tax cuts.

If that causes skeptics to scoff, perhaps they would find it more satisfying to hear that the reason ideological bias matters so little is that other biases matter so much more.

This is true in any election year. But the 2008 election has had some unique — and personal — phenomena.

One is McCain backlash. The Republican once was the best evidence of how little ideology matters. Even during his “maverick” days, McCain was a consistent social conservative, with views on abortion and other cultural issues that would have been odds with those of most reporters we know. Yet he won swooning coverage for a decade from reporters who liked his accessibility and iconoclasm and supposed commitment to clean politics.

Now he is paying. McCain’s decision to limit media access and align himself with the GOP conservative base was an entirely routine, strategic move for a presidential candidate. But much of the coverage has portrayed this as though it were an unconscionable sellout.

Since then the media often presumes bad faith on McCain’s part. The best evidence of this has been the intense focus on the negative nature of his ads, when it is clear Obama has been similarly negative in spots he airs on radio and in swing states.

It is not our impression that many reporters are rooting for Obama personally. To the contrary, most colleagues on the trail we’ve spoken with seem to find him a distant and undefined figure. But he has benefited from the idea that negative attacks that in a normal campaign would be commonplace in this year would carry an out-of-bounds racial subtext. That’s why Obama’s long association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was basically a nonissue in the general election.

Journalists’ hair-trigger racial sensitivity may have been misplaced, but it was not driven by an ideological tilt.

In addition, Obama has benefited from his ability to minimize internal drama and maximize secrecy — and thus to starve feed the press’ bias for palace intrigue. In this sense, his campaign bears resemblance to the two run by George W. Bush.

Beyond the particular circumstances of McCain v. Obama, there are other factors in any race that almost always matter more than the personal views of reporters.

The strongest of these is the bias in favor of momentum. A candidate who is perceived to be doing well tends to get even more positive coverage (about his or her big crowds or the latest favorable polls or whatever). And a candidate who is perceived to be doing poorly tends to have all events viewed through this prism.

Not coincidentally, this is a bias shared by most of our sources. This is why the bulk of negative stories about McCain are not about his ideology or policy plans — they are about intrigue and turmoil. Think back to the past week of coverage on Politico and elsewhere: Coverage has been dominated by Sarah Palin’s $150,000 handbags and glad rags, by finger-pointing in the McCain camp, and by apparent tensions between the candidate and his running mate.

These stories are driven by the flood of Republicans inside and out of the campaign eager to make themselves look good or others look bad. This always happens when a campaign starts to tank. Indeed, there was a spate of such stories when Obama’s campaign hit turmoil after the GOP convention and the Palin surge.

For better or worse, the most common media instincts all have countervailing pressures. Countering the bias in favor of momentum is the bias against boredom. We’ve seen that several times this cycle — an outlying poll number being pumped to suggest big changes in a race that is basically unchanged. There’s a good chance you’ll see this phenomenon more in the next week.

Then there is the bend-over-backward bias. This is when journalists try so hard to avoid accusations of favoritism that it clouds critical judgment. A good example were stories suggesting Palin held her own or even won her debate against Joe Biden when it seemed obvious she was simply invoking whatever talking points she had at hand, hanging on for dear life.

Finally, one of the biases of journalists is the same one that is potent for almost all people: the one in favor of self-defensiveness. That’s why, even though we think ideological bias is pretty low on the list of journalistic maladies in this election, it is not viable for reporters to dismiss criticism out of hand.

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Voters in at least 10 swing states are receiving hundreds of thousands of automated telephone calls — uniformly negative and sometimes misleading — that the Republican Party and the McCain campaign are financing this week as they struggle to keep more states from drifting into the Democratic column.

Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, has denounced such phone calls in the past: In the 2000 primaries, Mr. McCain was a target of misleading calls that included innuendo about his family, and he blamed them in part for his loss to George W. Bush. This January, too, in South Carolina, Mr. McCain described the calls against him as “scurrilous stuff,” and his campaign set up a “truth squad” to debunk them.

On Friday, a Democratic official in Minnesota said he had received one of these so-called robocalls and had tracked it to a company owned by a prominent Republican consultant, Jeff Larson. According to published news reports, Mr. Larson and his previous firm helped develop the phone calls in 2000 that took aim at Mr. McCain.

In the 2000 primaries, Mr. McCain was a target of misleading calls that included innuendo about his family, and he blamed them in part for his loss to George W. Bush.

A spokesman for the McCain campaign could not say Friday night whether it had contracted with Mr. Larson’s current company, FLS Connect. Phone messages left for Mr. Larson were not answered Friday, nor were messages left at a subcontractor, King TeleServices, which is making the actual calls to voters in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Democrat, Christopher Shoff, a commissioner in Freeborn County, said the automated call described Mr. Obama as putting “Hollywood above America” because he attended a fund-raiser in Beverly Hills hours after the federal government seized control of the insurance giant American International Group. The call was first reported by The Huffington Post.

“It is a disgusting form of negative campaigning,” Mr. Shoff said in an interview, “calling people randomly off a computerized list, during dinner time, and reciting a message that is misleading, as I knew it to be. Republicans should be talking about serious issues.”

Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said the “Hollywood” robocall was based in fact. “I would argue that much of these calls are based on hardened facts that American voters should consider,” Mr. Bounds said.

Another McCain spokesman, Brian Rogers, said the automated calls placed this year were different from those used against Mr. McCain in 2000 because they were “100 percent true.” Mr. Rogers added that it was “crazy” to compare these calls to the calls in 2000, which sought to hurt Mr. McCain by describing his “interracial child” — a reference to the McCains’ adopted daughter from Bangladesh.

On Friday, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, urged Mr. McCain to stop placing automated calls in her state, The Associated Press reported.

“It is a disgusting form of negative campaigning,” Mr. Shoff said in an interview, “calling people randomly off a computerized list, during dinner time, and reciting a message that is misleading, as I knew it to be. Republicans should be talking about serious issues.”

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said Mr. McCain’s use of automated calls in this campaign showed “just how much Senator McCain has changed since then — adopting not only President Bush’s policies but his tactics.” In response to the calls, the Obama campaign on Friday added a link on its Web site to FightTheSmears.com, asking supporters to report robocalls.

Mr. LaBolt said the Obama campaign was currently making robocalls, but he added: “The focus of all of our communications is on the direction Senator Obama will take the country and on policy differences between the candidates on issues like health care.” Republican National Committee officials said they were not aware of any Obama robocalls.

Such calls are a relatively cheap way to reach large numbers of voters in a short time. A review shows that the current calls on Mr. McCain’s behalf are uniformly negative and at times misleading.

The phone campaign hammers familiar themes that have been playing out for months in the campaign, focusing on Mr. Obama’s past associations and trying to portray him as a friend of radicals and liberal Hollywood celebrities.

Mr. McCain’s use of automated calls in this campaign showed “just how much Senator McCain has changed since then — adopting not only President Bush’s policies but his tactics.”

In one widely reported call, Mr. McCain raises Mr. Obama’s links to William Ayers, a founder of the 1960s-era radical Weather Underground. “You need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers,” a recorded voice says.

Mr. Obama, 47, and Mr. Ayers, now a 63-year-old education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, served together on two of that city’s philanthropic boards as well as on the board of an education project, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The two men have been described as friendly, but are not known to be close.

In an Oct. 10 letter to The New York Times, William C. Ibershof, the lead federal prosecutor of the Weathermen in the 1970s, expressed outrage that Mr. Obama was being tarred with the association, adding that he was pleased to learn that Mr. Ayers had “become a responsible citizen.”

The “Hollywood” robocall, meanwhile, asserts that “on the very day our elected leaders gathered in Washington to deal with the financial crisis, Barack Obama spent just 20 minutes with economic advisers, but hours at a celebrity Hollywood fund-raiser.”

The information is based on a newspaper report from Sept. 16, when the government took control of the American International Group in an $85 billion bailout. Mr. Obama attended a cocktail reception that night in Beverly Hills that featured celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Leonardo DiCaprio, after a 20-minute briefing by economic advisers.

But Mr. LaBolt said Mr. Obama’s schedule that day also showed that he was briefed by staff members twice more and spoke with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

Mr. McCain was not in Washington, either, on the day Mr. Obama was in Beverly Hills; he was campaigning in Ohio. The Obama campaign noted that Mr. McCain had also raised money from Hollywood.

Voters in North Carolina have received calls accusing Mr. Obama of opposing legislation aimed at protecting aborted fetuses that show signs of life, a position the call states is “at odds even with John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.”

“Please vote,” the call continues, “vote for candidates that share our values.”

The 2003 measure in Illinois that Mr. Obama opposed was virtually identical to federal legislation that Mr. Bush signed into law in 2002 after it was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. But Mr. Obama and other opponents of the Illinois bill have said that the state already had a law protecting aborted fetuses born alive. The Illinois State Medical Society, which also opposed the legislation, said the bill would increase civil liability for doctors and interfere with their patient relationships.

Source: NYT

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