Correction to This Article
This column says that Sen. Barack Obama bought land from an indicted businessman, referring to Antoin "Tony" Rezko. Obama made the purchase in 2005, and Rezko was not indicted until 2006.
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'Soft' Press Sharpens Its Focus on Obama

Journalists, accused of giving Sen. Barack Obama an easier time than they've given his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, are now scrutinizing him more closely, including his lapels.
Journalists, accused of giving Sen. Barack Obama an easier time than they've given his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, are now scrutinizing him more closely, including his lapels. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)
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Would Clinton have skated as easily if she were found to have visited radicals tied to violence? Or bought land from an indicted businessman, as in the Rezko case? Or if the pastor of her church had talked about "this racist United States of America," as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who heads Obama's church, has?

That is hard to imagine. Clinton's complaints about media imbalance are buttressed by a new study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs. From Dec. 16 through Feb. 19, it says, the three network newscasts aired reports that were 84 percent positive for Obama and 53 percent positive for Clinton. She scored higher on evaluations of policy and public performance, but that amounted to only 10 percent of the coverage.

On Friday, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told reporters there was a "staggering" gap between the Rezko coverage and the volume of questions he fielded about her indicted fundraiser, Norman Hsu. Yet Clinton's team angered the press again by not telling traveling reporters in Texas that she was flying to New York to appear on "SNL" -- intelligence they had to learn from Obama aides.

Still, after a year in which Obama was hailed as the second coming of JFK, will his Teflon coating now be scratched? Tapper says he asked Obama about his patriotism "because obviously Democratic voters think the nominee should be someone who is able to withstand Republican conservative attacks." He says he noticed such criticism spreading on talk radio, cable shows and blogs, and "to act as if we can ignore other parts of the media because we're snobby about it . . . then we're irrelevant, because we're missing part of the story.

"It's very difficult to argue that the level of scrutiny of Barack Obama has been the same as the level of scrutiny of other candidates."

But, Tapper says, holding Obama accountable is difficult because he speaks to reporters infrequently.

RedState's Erickson says the media haven't really focused on Obama's positions. "I've spent the last six months accumulating stuff from his voting record. This is an opportunity to define him," he says.

Erickson concedes that his "cokehead" crack was a distraction, saying he would not join the ranks of partisan commentators who "write in such a hyperbolic way that it destroys their credibility. It's going to be the template, as with the Clinton-haters, for the Obama-haters to report on the salacious and the rumors."

But the media don't need to descend into Rumorland to give a candidate a hard time. After Russert raised the issue of Obama's pastor at the debate, CNN did a piece on the senator's relationship with Wright, an admirer of Farrakhan. (Obama says they disagree on some issues.) The Washington Post, followed by the Times, ran a story on Obama trying to reassure Jewish leaders about his commitment to Israel, a controversy that had been brewing for months.

One overlooked aspect of Obama's success may be his skill at defusing hostile media inquiries. He preempted critics by calling his dealings with Rezko a "boneheaded mistake." He has talked about the danger of spending "too much time arguing with the refs," says a new book by Chicago reporter David Mendell. The question is whether Obama can resist that temptation if journalists start tackling him more often.

So Much for Diplomacy

Sam Zell, the Chicago businessman who now owns the Tribune Co., recently hurled an obscenity at a photographer for one of his papers, the Orlando Sentinel. Zell apologized, and editors at the Los Angeles Times, the largest Tribune paper, issued a memo saying it was all right for the boss to curse but not the employees.

Some staffers in the company's Washington bureau certainly felt like uttering expletives -- and one female staffer was left in tears -- after a Zell visit last week. The new boss complained about the size of the Times' 47-person contingent, saying that far fewer reporters were covering California's Orange County and perhaps the numbers should be reversed.

Doyle McManus, the Times bureau chief, tried to reassure his demoralized staff afterward. In a memo, McManus said Zell's comments "shouldn't be taken literally. . . . Sam Zell likes to say his role is to throw bombs and shake people up." On that point, he succeeded.

Cruelty to Animals

California's North County Times has fired an editor with a warped sense of humor. As a joke, the unnamed editor mucked with a wire-service account of a news conference on pet spaying at which a Los Angeles City Council member "held a kitten," changing the verb to "strangled." The paper apologized for the "terrible mistake."

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