Eureka! Media Discover Fairness, Balance!

CMI has sighted objectivity in the network news!

Media coverage of the Hillary vs. Obama racial spat has been distinguished by its fairness and balance.  Of course, for the mainstream media, a dispute between the two leading Democratic presidential candidates is an in-house affair.  We're still waiting to see journalists employ such professionalism in stories about conflicts between the left and the right. 

The battle began last Monday in New Hampshire, when Hillary Clinton suggested that Martin Luther King Jr. had Lyndon Johnson to thank for the success of the civil rights movement:  “Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act … it took a president to get it done.” Many black Democrats were also offended when Bill Clinton called Obama's claim that he consistently opposed the Iraq war a “fairy tale.” The dispute boiled over Sunday when Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson publicly sided with Hillary and made a veiled reference to Obama's background of drug abuse.

Talk about a touchy subject for the media!  CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood explained the problem on Sunday's NBC Nightly News:  “… but in a larger sense we're just seeing how potentially explosive it is to have a history making African-American and woman run against one another in the Democratic primary. Both of those campaigns and John Edwards for that matter have to treat this very carefully over the next few weeks so that they can unite the party once Democratic voters pick a winner.”

Never say the media fail to keep their eye on the prize: Democratic victory in November.

NBC Nightly News on Sunday evening, and ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's The Early Show and NBC's Today show on Monday morning aired, fairly and fully, Clinton's accusations against Barack, Barack's accusations against Clinton, and their replies to each other's attacks.  The stories included video clips of each candidate commenting on the dispute, along with supporters of each candidate.  Even today's Washington Post story is superbly balanced, making seven points that tend to support Obama and six that support Clinton

The networks all bent over backwards to cover the bitter dispute without taking sides.  Ah, the sweet sound of moral equivalence:

    NBC Nightly News reporter Lee Cowan:  “Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton were pulling any punches today as we head into this final week before the caucuses here in Nevada…”

·        CBS News Senior Political Correspondent Jeff Greenfield:  “So who's right about what led to progress? They both are.”

·        ABC's George Stephanopoulos on GMA: “The Obama campaign doesn't want to say on the record that the Clintons are playing the race card, although that's certainly the subtext of a lot of their charges. And they're convinced that's exactly what the Clintons are doing. On the other hand, the Clintons are convinced that's exactly what the Obama campaign is doing in reverse.”

One little media bias quibble.  ABC ran a clip of Barack Obama saying, “I'm not going to spend all my time running down all the other candidates, which seems to be what Senator Clinton was obsessed with the last month.”  ABC failed to criticize Obama for slamming Clinton in the very sentence in which he denies that he “runs down” other candidates. 

That's quite a sharp contrast to the media ridicule of Republican candidate Mike Huckabee after he announced at a press conference that he wasn't going to run negative ads in Iowa, but showed a negative ad to the gathered reporters.

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.