Lawyers call this a "declaration against interest."
Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell wrote a column in her own newspaper comparing the paper's front-page coverage of Democratic nominee Barack Obama with that of Republican nominee John McCain.
Her findings? Examining stories from June 4, when Obama became the presumptive nominee, until Aug. 15, the Post ran 142 political stories about Obama, compared with 96 about McCain. As to front-page stories, Obama was 35 to McCain's 13.
What about photographs? The Post ran, during this time, 143 pics of Obama versus 100 of McCain.
The paper's assistant managing editor for politics explained the discrepancy this way: "We make our own decisions about what we consider newsworthy. We are not garment workers measuring our product every day to fulfill somebody's quota." In other words, Obama makes good copy, and this is, after all, a business. Fair enough. (But what's he got against garment workers?)
But why, then -- when the Post's Howell pointed out the discrepancy in photographs -- did the disparity disappear over the next two weeks? Howell writes that since she first pointed out the lopsided nature of the photo coverage: "Editors have run almost the same number of photos -- 21 of Obama and 22 of McCain -- since they realized the disparity. McCain is almost even with Obama in Page 1 photos -- 10 to 9."
Wait a sec. If the Post assumed that photographs of Obama drive sales, then what happened? The likely explanation is that the Post considers itself a "news" organization, and was embarrassed when one of its own columnists revealed its blatant partisanship.
As for Obama's popularity -- the basis for printing more stories about Obama -- take a look at the recent polls. A Reuters/Zogby poll, for example, gives McCain a 5-point lead among likely voters, with most of the major pollsters considering the race a dead heat. Does this not make McCain and Obama at least equally good copy?
But many of these same people who defend the Post's right to make a profit also demand the reimposition of the so-called Fairness Doctrine -- to force radio station programmers to "balance" popular conservative hosts with liberal ones. But "fairness" proponents show no concern when avowed Bush-haters, such as NBC/MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, put on their "journalist" hats and "cover" primaries, debates and political conventions.
How bad is it?
Take the recent studies by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonpartisan, non-ideological and nonpolitical research organization. PEJ finds that from June 9 through Aug. 17, Obama received significantly more coverage than McCain -- even during Obama's Hawaii vacation. During the not-particularly-memorable week of June 23 to June 29, Obama received more than twice the coverage of McCain -- 82 percent to 40 percent.
And it's not just Obama. Last year, Harvard and PEJ studied presidential campaign stories from January through May in print, TV, radio and Internet outlets. Surprise, surprise, it turns out Democrats got more stories (49 percent) than Republicans (31 percent). Also, the tone of the coverage was more positive for Democrats (35 percent) than for Republicans (26 percent).
"Not only did the Republicans receive less coverage overall," the Harvard study authors say, "the attention they did get tended to be more negative than that of Democrats. And in some specific media genres, the difference is particularly striking." For example, 59 percent of front-page stories about Democrats in 11 newspapers had a "clear, positive message vs. 11 percent that carried a negative tone."
Obama's coverage was 70 percent positive and 9 percent negative. Hillary Clinton's was 61 percent positive and 13 percent negative. Yet only 26 percent of the stories on Republican candidates were positive, and 40 percent were negative.
On TV, evening network newscasts gave Democrats 49 percent of their campaign coverage and Republicans 28 percent. As for tone, 39.5 percent of the Democratic coverage was positive and 17.1 percent negative, while 18.6 percent of the Republican coverage was positive versus 37.2 percent negative.
This brings us to one of McCain's follies: McCain-Feingold. The act prohibits so-called soft money donations to national party committees, places restrictions on political ads that specifically name federal candidates 60 days prior to general elections, and prohibits any ads paid for by corporations or nonprofit "issue organizations," such as Right to Life.
Opponents of McCain-Feingold know something that apparently John McCain did not. The Democratic message -- hostility toward "the rich," the supposed "right" to health care, the general disdain toward the Bush administration -- gets an airing in our mainstream media … for free.
There's a line between journalism and advocacy. "Journalists" crossed it a long time ago.