Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dan Balz and double standards: Yet another example of the media's abominable coverage of the 2008 presidential race

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I missed this yesterday -- so stuffed was I from Canadian Thanksgiving -- but Beltway staple Dan Balz wrote a post for WaPo's The Trail yesterday in which he argued that "the real focus now ought to be on Barack Obama. Why? Well, because, "at this point, Obama has a better chance of becoming president than McCain." Praising McCain for offering "substantive" criticisms of Obama in a recent stump speech and for being his old fighting "underdog" self again, Balz defends McCain's attacks on Obama's "patriotism or his commitment to the values the country holds dear" and questions Obama's ability to deal effectively with the current "crisis in the credit markets." He doesn't actually delve into the details of Obama's policies, of course, which presumably would be too much of a challenge for him, but instead poses a long string of questions that Obama, and only Obama, should be required to answer:

How adaptable is Obama to all of this [i.e., the financial crisis]? How willing is he to address these questions in real time, as opposed to later? How much time has he given recently to rethinking the scope and ambition of a possible Obama administration? Would he come to office with a determination to be bold or to be cautious? Is he the pragmatist that allies have suggested -- or committed to a more ideologically oriented agenda, as his critics say?

Other questions that ought to be raised include what his commitment to bipartisanship amounts to at this point. He has talked about turning the page on old politics throughout his campaign. What does that mean?

All hard-fought campaigns become more partisan toward the end, but how much would that color Obama's approach, should he end up in the Oval Office? Will he hew closely to the wishes of Democratic congressional leaders or will he demonstrate some independence from them in an effort show the country what he might to do create a broader coalition as president? Will he do anything before the election to signal what he thinks?

As Jonathan Chait responded at TNR's The Plank, Balz clearly wants the press to "start holding Barack Obama to a higher standard than his opponent." "In other words,... Obama should be treated as if he's already president, rather than as one of two candidates for the presidency." But why?

Balz is saying that voters need to know all these things about Obama (he does not say they need to know this about McCain) before the election. Why before the election? It can only be because they might decide they prefer McCain instead. But why should voters be making this decision on the basis of how they judge Obama, rather than an even comparison between the two candidates? Balz is saying that the press should give Obama the scrutiny of an incumbent president so that voters can potentially choose somebody else to be president.

What Balz is proposing, explicitly, is a double standard, one that accepts the McCain myth without question and that would subject Obama to rigorous questioning solely for the purpose of boosting McCain's fortunes. Yes, no doubt, Balz could defend himself by arguing that Obama ought to be held to a higher standard because he is likely to be the next president, but there is, if I am not mistaken, the not-insignificant matter of an election yet to be held -- an election whose outcome is hardly certain, as Balz acknowledges.

So why not subject McCain to similar scrutiny? Would that not be fair? But what is fair to Balz? His post -- one of the very worst things I have read this entire campaign -- is laced with pro-McCain bias, and, presumably, what is fair to him is to ask "hard questions" of Obama only. What he presumably wants, that is, is for McCain to keep smearing Obama's character and values, which he thinks is totally acceptable, and for his colleagues in the press to devote their energies to tearing Obama down in advance of the election, to cover the race like a loyal offshoot of the McCain campaign.

And, no doubt, many in the media will play right along with the "prestigious" and "influential" Balz, who, with this one blatantly biased post, has destroyed whatever sliver of integrity he had left, much to the discredit of the entire mainstream press corps.

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