A review of news coverage from the last week using the TVEyes media monitoring database reveals that the controversies surrounding the Clinton Foundation’s foreign donations, Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s plot to paint President Obama as anti-Semitic and anti-woman, and Vice President Biden’s Somali cab driver gaffe have generated just over 1,300 TV and radio hits combined.
Remarks made by Rudy Giuliani tallied over 8,600 hits Monday afternoon, and that number is still growing.
Coverage has been fueled by reporters grasping for new angles or asking any Republican in range of a microphone to respond to his comments and other unrelated questions.
Yet while the media forced potential Republican presidential candidates to weigh in on that story, they did not do the same for potential Democrat candidates when it came to any of their party’s controversies of the week.
The allegations are not new -- Republicans have believed since forever that the media is chockfull of secret Democrats willing to give "their" party a break while bashing Republicans for the same crimes and misdemeanors. (In the past decade or so, Democrats have become increasingly convinced that the media is "too conservative." Good times.)
But, simply because Republicans have been alleging media bias forever doesn't mean that this instance might not be an example of it, right? So, is it?
Before I go any further, this caveat: I am a reporter. I have been for a very long time. I am inherently biased in favor of giving reporters the benefit of the doubt not because I am one of them but because I have spent years surrounded by colleagues more motivated by good stories and getting it right than pushing some sort of agenda.
Even with that caveat, it's hard to dismiss the central charge in the RNC memo: The Giuliani comments have drawn WAY more press attention than the other three stories -- all making Democrats look not so good -- it cites. What I do think it worth noting is some context as to why the Giuliani story got so much more coverage.
1. Giuliani was on the record. There was no disputing that Giuliani questioned whether President Obama loves America the same way he does. That's not the case in the Wasserman Schultz story since the quotes about her willingness to allege anti-Semitism if she was removed from the DNC chairmanship comes from a summary of "people who spoke with her." No one is quoted -- not even anonymously. That makes the water's more murky for any reporter worth anything. The Biden story is less defensible along those same lines, however.
2. Giuliani just kept talking about it. It wasn't just that Giuliani questioned President Obama's love for America. It's that he JUST KEPT TALKING about it. He brought up Obama's white mother and white grandparents in an interview with the Maggie Haberman of the New York Times. He went on a bunch of cable shows and refused to back down. By contrast, the Democrats in the stories the RNC mentioned offered little follow up comment -- if any -- on the stories. BREAKING NEWS: If you take a can of lighter fluid and squeeze it out on a small(ish) fire, there's a whole lot better chance that it will grow into a much bigger fire.
3. Giuliani was talking about race and the President. There is no more hot-button topic -- particularly with the first black president in the White House -- in the country than race. While Giuliani insisted that his comments weren't about race, they were quite clearly in line with the Obama-as-other narrative that is very hard to de-couple (un-couple?) from topics of race. Then when Giuliani followed up by referencing the fact that Obama was brought up by white people, well, see my comment above about pouring lighter fluid on a fire. While there's no question that the Clinton story is a big one -- with implications for her presidential bid -- it lacks the sort of visceral reaction from the public that any discussion of race and politics has by default. Again, Biden's comments are harder to justify because they obviously do have a racial component.
So, from my vantage point, the Biden story seems to be the strongest example of the media bias claim. I do think there is a tendency among some in the media to dismiss Biden's tendency to say impolitic things as "Biden being Biden", which is, of course, the double standard the RNC is talking about. I have tried in this space not to do that; we wrote a piece on how Biden's behavior around Stephanie Carter, the wife of the Secretary of Defense, crossed a line -- and the Vice President won the Worst Week in Washington as well.
I also think that the RNC is doing a few other things with the release of the memo. First, they are working the refs -- making sure reporters are aware that they are keeping close track of what is covered (and what isn't). Second, bashing the media is a sound strategy for the RNC since their base believes strongly that the media is deeply biased. Witness Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker raising money off of the allegedly "gotcha" (not really) questions asked by my colleagues at the Post over the weekend.
Still, those facts don't take away from the RNC's point. While I believe the some context mitigates their memo's allegations, it's hard to see why the Biden comments (at least) didn't get more coverage. Point RNC.