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 V.17 No.11 | March 13 - 19, 2008 

Thin Line

The Press Takes Clinton's Bait

If Sen. Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination, she'll have "Saturday Night Live" to thank.

During a debate in Ohio two weeks ago, Clinton referenced a sketch on the NBC program in which the press is shown fawning over her rival, Sen. Barack Obama, and treating her gruffly. "In the last several debates I seem to get the first question all the time," Clinton said. "I don't mind. I'll be happy to field it. I just find it curious if anybody saw 'Saturday Night Live,' maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow."

Reporters took note of Clinton's critique and made sure Obama had plenty of negative stories to contend with leading up to the crucial primaries on March 4 in Texas and Ohio. Clinton won both primaries and political analysts and media can claim partial credit for the new lease on life those victories have given her campaign.

A study released last week by the Project for Excellence in Journalism reported during the week leading up to the March 4 primaries, the press produced numerous stories about Obama's connection with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and frequently brought up the notion that reporters weren't giving Clinton a fair shake.

Even though 69 percent of all stories on the candidates’ campaigns were about Obama, Clinton was the subject of 58 percent of all election stories, and most of her coverage was positive, according to the study. The stories were less likely to focus on the turmoil surrounding Clinton's campaign advisers and more likely to portray Clinton as a candidate soldiering on despite poor odds.

Clinton's complaint about bias, whether true or not, is a campaign strategy the press completely bought into. Without producing any hard proof she had been wronged, Clinton managed to convince reporters, columnists and newscasters they were partially to blame for her 11 straight losses in contests all across the country last month.

Obama said as much when he chastised members of the media last week. "I didn’t expect that you guys would bite on that," he said to reporters on his campaign plane. "I am a little surprised that all the complaining about the refs has worked." He's right, but so is Clinton.

At least to some degree, pundits probably fell in love with Obama's charisma, and that may have led to a few softballs being thrown his way. Regardless, the press does itself no favors by kowtowing to Clinton's criticisms and proving, once again, it can be easily manipulated.


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