Time's 'Campaign Scorecard' Ignores Character Issues

     The Oct. 27, 2008 cover of Time

Time magazine's Weekly “Campaign Scorecard” in the Nov. 3 edition gives Democrats a “win” for the fifth week in a row, but that should not be surprising.

Reflecting media campaign coverage, the Scorecard generally ignores Republican presidential candidate John McCain's strong suits such as abortion, marriage, courage, experience and national security.  Instead, the Scorecard tends to emphasize Democratic candidate Barack Obama's strengths, such as debate demeanor, the economy and campaign fundraising.

Time's Mark Halperin has run a Campaign Scorecard piece every week since the beginning of June (18 weeks). It contains four different issues each week, and Halperin determines whether the Democrats or Republicans win each “round.” Democrats have won 11 rounds to the GOP's seven and have had a five-week “winning streak” since late September.  The GOP nominee scored in only one category in the week of Oct. 15-22 – “gaffes” – thanks to Obama's now-famous remark to Joe the Plumber about “spreading the wealth around.”

Questions that revealed honesty, leadership, courage or integrity comprised more than one third of the presidential primary debate questions, according to a CMI study.  But during the three presidential debates and in major media coverage, character has taken a back seat, and it is also largely missing in the 18 weeks of the Campaign Scorecard.

 Since the feature began in June, the economy has been a topic eight times, the most of any category, which is fitting given Wall Street's ongoing tsunamis. Demeanor, in the form of image, confidence or enthusiasm, was featured seven times, with money/resources (campaign funding) featured four times. The other “issues” in Time's chart include the Electoral College, debates, confidence, resources, consistency, party unity, running mates, momentum, image, tactics, foreign policy, Iraq, news coverage and enthusiasm.

With the media blaming the Bush Administration for the financial crisis, it is no surprise that the “economy” issue has not favored McCain. But when Time's September 29 issue features a graphic of McCain sinking in a ship made of money, accompanied by Halperin's claim that “the issue is such an albatross for the incumbent party,” one has to wonder whether or not the Republican nominee ever had a chance at scoring in the category regardless of what happened on the campaign trail.

The winner of the issue of “confidence” also seems to be a gimme for the Democrat. Since the Obama campaign has more resources than the McCain campaign, a sycophantic media (including Time magazine) and a lead in the polls, wouldn't it make sense that the Obama campaign is the one with more confidence? In the Oct. 20 edition, Halperin gives Obama the win in confidence and notes: “With the economy in shreds and wrong-track numbers rising, GOP strategists fear a possible election wipeout. Democrats, with more money and a powerful voter-turnout operation, have begun to drop their poker faces.”

In the October 27 issue, under the issue of consistency, Halperin dismisses McCain as “moody as Hamlet, with shifting policy proposals, fickle themes and muddled attacks.”

Meanwhile, Time's cover story in the Oct. 27 edition, “Does Temperament Matter?” had Barack Obama in a Lincolnesque pose at the top next to a picture of Abraham Lincoln. Underneath were pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John McCain.  Recall that demeanor was the second-most frequently occurring “issue” in the Campaign Scorecard. If Obama outscores McCain every time in that category, and the cover features the issue of “temperament,” is Time creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Erin Brown is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.