Weekday 2: No Media Benefit for McCain from Obama's Vacation

Just as on Monday night, Barack Obama vacationing in Hawaii while John McCain remains on the campaign trail (he held a town meeting in York, Pennsylvania), failed to change the media dynamic of greater and better coverage for Obama. CBS on Tuesday night gave equal time to comments from both candidates on Russia's invasion of Georgia before Jeff Greenfield, echoing ABC the night before, twisted news -- that a top Clinton campaign operative recommended attacking Obama as less than genuinely American -- into reprimanding McCain for supposedly following that strategy. Meanwhile, ABC pegged its campaign story to how “former Congressman Jim Leach, a respected Republican from Iowa, threw his support behind Barack Obama today.”

Over video of Obama in Kailua, Couric relayed how “Barack Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, put out a statement repeating his call for Russia to stop its attacks.” Greenfield recited how chief Clinton strategist Mark Penn “wrote, quote: 'I cannot imagine America electing a President during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values'” As video played of parts of two McCain ads, including the one with Paris Hilton which Couric last month denounced as “infamous,” Greenfield asserted:
To look now at some of John McCain's TV and Web ads, it is almost as if his campaign is following Penn's outsider strategy to the letter. For instance, the constant reference to Obama as a celebrity.
Greenfield went to James Bennet of The Atlantic for support: “I think the very definition of a celebrity is someone who is not like us. Somebody who is fundamentally different. Probably some sort of an artificial construct. Somebody who's fundamentally a stranger.”

“Infamous.” On the July 31 CBS Evening News, Couric characterized the McCain ad as “infamous,” citing “the now-infamous McCain ad that likens his Democratic opponent to celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.”

On ABC Tuesday night, World News anchor Charles Gibson set up his newscast's campaign coverage:
In presidential politics, former Congressman Jim Leach, a respected Republican from Iowa, threw his support behind Barack Obama today, saying the Democrat will bring a new look to foreign policy.
Given the anti-conservative and fairly liberal passions of the “respected Republican” during his tenure, that's hardly man-bites-dog news.

That news led into a Jake Tapper piece on how both candidates, in Gibson's words, “have called for and said they could achieve bipartisanship in Washington.”

Tapper began: “For 30 years, Jim Leach served as a Republican Congressman from Iowa. Today, he endorsed Democrat Barack Obama.” After showing Joe Lieberman at the McCain event in Pennsylvania, Tapper reported that polls show cross-party support for both candidates and then he listed te issues where they've gone against their party. For Obama: “In the Senate, Obama has teamed up with Republicans on important issues such as securing loose nukes and ethics reform.” Tapper, however, did note: “But nothing that has caused him any serious political trouble with voters.”

With Obama on vacation, for the second evening the NBC Nightly News took a vacation from presidential campaign news, but it was all Olympics promotion as the newscast ran a full story on efforts to drill for oil in North Dakota and made time for Brian William in Beijing to read an item about the cost of the Iraq war:
In other news tonight, a new report out from the Congressional Budget Office says by the end of this year, the U.S. will have spent about $100 billion on private contractors in Iraq. At the start of '08, there were approximately 190,000 contractors in the war zone. That's about equal to the number of U.S. military personnel, a one-to-one ratio.
My August 11 NewsBusters posting, “Obama on Vacation, Yet Earns More and Better Coverage than McCain,” recounted:
So much for John McCain's hope that remaining on the campaign trail this week while Barack Obama vacations in Hawaii would lead to more or friendlier coverage. At least not on Monday night when Katie Couric highlighted how "Obama put out a tongue in cheek response to Senator McCain's celebrity ad" and she helpfully pointed out: "The ad also features six different shots of Senator McCain next to President Bush." Later, CBS allocated more than three minutes to a "CBS News Exclusive" interview and profile by Couric of "Barack Obama's brain," Valerie Jarrett, who "just may be the most powerful woman in Chicago besides Oprah."

ABC centered an entire piece around revelations Hillary Clinton campaign operatives planned to "question Obama's authenticity as an American. She rejected that strategy," yet ABC managed to twist the story into Obama victimization as anchor Charles Gibson fretted: "There are indications that John McCain may be adopting it now."

Reporter Jake Tapper warned "some say that John McCain has tried to subtly portray Obama as not quite American enough, playing up Obama's popularity abroad." The proof? This from McCain at a South Dakota motorcycle rally last week: "Not long ago, a couple of hundred thousand Berliners made a lot of noise for my opponent. I'll take the roar of 50,000 Harleys any day!" Tapper moved on to how McCain's ad narrator saying "John McCain: The American President Americans have been waiting for" is "a line many saw as implying something not American about Obama." Tapper ominously concluded:
ABC News has learned that an independent conservative group has been filming in Indonesia where Obama spent a few years during his childhood. So even if Senator McCain does not draw attention to that unusual quality of Obama's youth, someone will.
The Tuesday, August 12 evening newscast campaign coverage on CBS and ABC:

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: John McCain meanwhile says he talked by telephone today with Georgia's President, assuring him of U.S. support. While campaigning in Pennsylvania, Senator McCain said the Russian invasion was meant to send a signal to nations that are friendly to the West. Barack Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, put out a statement repeating his call for Russia to stop its attacks.

In other political news tonight, new insight into Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination. They show campaign officials at odds over strategy and how to handle Barack Obama. Here's our senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, this isn't exactly the party I'd planned, but I sure like the company.

JEFF GREENFIELD: The question was asked over and over once the battle ended. Why did Senator Clinton lose? Now the Atlantic magazine has published leaked memos from inside the Clinton campaign that detail the decisions and indecisions that shaped the campaign, including bitter internal fights about how to position the candidate. But the most eye-opening revelation, one directly related to the fall campaign, is that Clinton strategist Mark Penn was arguing that Obama had to be attacked as an outsider, a stranger, an alien. In a March 2007 memo, Penn wrote, quote: "I cannot imagine America electing a President during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values." By contrast, he argued, Clinton should run as the middle class, middle American candidate. A year later, Penn saw Reverend Jeremiah Wright as a tempting target. "Won't a single tape of Wright going off on America with Obama sitting there be a game ender?" he wrote.

CLIP OF McCAIN AD: You've seen him in London, Paris, and Berlin.

GREENFIELD: To look now at some of John McCain's TV and Web ads, it is almost as if his campaign is following Penn's outsider strategy to the letter. For instance, the constant reference to Obama as a celebrity.

CLIP OF AD: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

JAMES BENNET, THE ATLANTIC: I think the very definition of a celebrity is someone who is not like us. Somebody who is fundamentally different. Probably some sort of an artificial construct. Somebody who's fundamentally a stranger.

GREENFIELD: In the end, the Clinton campaign never really went after Obama on his background mostly because it was a primary battle and they had to keep in mind the cost of such attacks on party unity. The McCain camp has no such concern, Katie.

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: In presidential politics, former Congressman Jim Leach, a respected Republican from Iowa, threw his support behind Barack Obama today, saying the Democrat will bring a new approach to foreign policy.

Both Obama and John McCain have called for and said they could achieve bipartisanship in Washington. But do they practice what they preach? Here's ABC's Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER: For 30 years, Jim Leach served as a Republican Congressman from Iowa. Today, he endorsed Democrat Barack Obama.

JIM LEACH, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: An awful lot of Republicans are more than slightly disgruntled at the direction of the country, more than slightly disappointed at the large deficits and at our foreign policy adventurism.

TAPPER: In York, Pennsylvania today, John McCain was introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman, who calls himself an independent Democrat.

SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN: It's great to be here with "Rocky" McCain.

TAPPER: With so many voters seeking an end to partisan gridlock, both Obama and McCain have long been delivering a message of uniting the country. And they have remarkably equal appeal across the aisle: 13 percent of Democrats say they're likely to vote for McCain, 13 percent of Republicans prefer Obama.

BARACK OBAMA AT CAMPAIGN EVENT ON APRIL 28: They're called Obama-cans. They're Obama-cans. There's one right here.

JOHN McCAIN: I just want to say, I have a record of reaching across the aisle, of reaching across the aisle and working with my friends, whether it be Joe Lieberman or Ted Kennedy.

TAPPER: McCain has broken with his party on controversial issues such as campaign finance reform, global warming, and most recently, immigration reform, his support for which almost cost him the Republican nomination. In the Senate, Obama has teamed up with Republicans on important issues such as securing loose nukes and ethics reform. But nothing that has caused him any serious political trouble with voters.

TAPPER TO OBAMA IN UNDATED ARCHIVE VIDEO: Have you ever worked across the aisle in such a way that entailed a political risk for yourself?

OBAMA: Well, look. When I was doing ethics reform legislation, for example, that wasn't popular with Democrats or Republicans. So, anytime that you actually try to get something done in Washington, it entails some political risks.

TAPPER: It's unlikely that either candidate will pick someone from the other party to be his running mate. But political operatives like to keep that notion afloat, floating names of Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Obama, or Joe Lieberman for McCain, just to push this bipartisan image.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center