Category Archives: presidential campaign

When It Comes to Photos, Washington Post Favors Obama


By Richard Benedetto


WASHINGTON – John McCain backers who believe he is not getting a fair shake in coverage from the Washington Post might have a case, especially when looking at photos.

An examination of the A Sections of The Post from June 4, the day after Barack Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, to July 13, a time frame of 40 days, showed that the newspaper not only published more photos of Obama, but that photos of him were generally larger, more colorful, more flattering and better placed than those of McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Consider these A-Section findings over the period:

Obama photos outnumbered McCain, 57-47.

Obama had more front-page photos, 6-5.

Obama had more color photos, 38-27.

– Obama had more large photos, three columns or wider, 31-19.

While numbers of published photos on the front page were nearly equal, those of Obama were substantially larger than pictures of McCain. Moreover, five of the six Obama pictures on the front page were above the fold. Three of the five McCain photos were played below the fold, a less conspicuous spot.

My examination further left me wondering whether photographers devoted more effort and time to composition of Obama photo shoots, rather than simply opting for a head and shoulders image. Obama photos seemed more candid, personal, asrtistic, and flattering.

For example, on June 22., a dramatic nearly quarter-page color photo of Obama on Page 4A had a background of what appeared to be heavenly stars reminiscent of the American Flag. On the same page, below the fold, was a tight one-column mugshot of McCain, about one-twentieth the size of the Obama portrait.

On June 5 (Page A7) , the newspaper published a full-page-width photo of a heroic-appearing Obama speaking from the back of a truck in Iowa. Post photographer Linda Davidson had to have been on her knees or stomach to capture that angle.

And on July 5 (Page A-4), there was a four-column photo of the full Obama family – Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha- waving flags and smiling broadly during at a Fourth of July parade in Montana. No picture of McCain in The Post that day.

Also, on June 14, the day after NBC’s Tim Russert died, the Post managed to find and publish a file photo of Russert interviewing Obama on Meet The Press. McCain appeared on Russert’s program several times, but the Post featured no photo to show that.

There were few artistic photos of McCain during the 40 days. Most were traditional campaign shots of the Arizona senator candidate speaking at a lectern or shaking hands with supporters. One exception was a shot of him speaking with the yellow glow of an ornate chandelier in the background. Another showed him talking to reporters on his plane.

In most of the Obama pictures the candidate is smiling. In most of the McCain photos his expression ranges from serious to sour. One might argue that Obama just smiles more than McCain. That’s probably true. But the contrast is noticeable.

Is all this an accident, or an effort by The Post to boost Obama, consciously or unconsciously? The discrepancies raise questions.

Some might label my 40-day comparison as coincidence, and that if we look at the photos over a longer period they would tend to balance. Maybe so. It would be interesting to check the figures at the end of the summer.

There is no rule nor regulation that says a newspaper must devote equal space in news columns and equal numbers and quality of photos to presidential candidates. Ralph Nader is running and barely receives coverage. But the principle of fairness, pertaining to photos, should apply to the top candidates,

Take note that this is not to accuse Washington Post photo editors of a bias toward Obama. But I am saying that editors need to be more discerning in their picture selections and ask themselves if they are giving the two candidates an even break. Right now, they are not.

Richard Benedetto is a retired White House correspondent and columnist for USA Today. He now teaches politics and journalism at American and Georgetown Universities in Washington, D.C.







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Media Political Endorsements: Voter Aid or Voter Turnoff?

   By Richard Benedetto  

     WASHINGTON – Call it the “Get-Giuliani” endorsement.  

      Because that is what the New York Times apparently was trying to do by releasing its editorial endorsement of John McCain last Friday, four days before Florida’s Republican presidential primary.  Florida is a must-win state for Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor. And Giuliani, the ex-mayor The Times loves to hate, is trailing badly in most polls. 

      It makes little difference that New York City, home of The Times, is 1,288 driving miles from Miami. A lot of New York retirees now living in the Sunshine State still read The Times. And these are the folks the paper appears to be hoping to influence when they vote on Tuesday.  New York doesn’t vote until Feb. 5.  

     As it is, the Democrat-leaning Times, in making an endorsement in the Republican race, made sure we knew that it was doing so while holding its delicate political nose:.

    “We have strong disagreements with all the Republicans running for president……Still, there is a choice to be made…,” the editorial drearily sighed.

     It then went on to declare that McCain was the best of a bad GOP lot.

     But rather than wax on about the virtues of the Arizona senator, the editorial devoted much of its space to trashing Giuliani in apparent hope of pushing Florida voters inclined to take The Times word as gospel to reject him.

      “The real Mr. Giuliani, whom many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power,” the editorial said. “Racial polarization was as much a legacy of his tenure as the rebirth of Times Square…. Mr. Giuliani’s arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking. .. The Rudolph Giuliani of 2008 first shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his city’s and the country’s nightmare to promote his presidential campaign.”  

     Those are pretty rough words, much rougher than any of Guiliani’s primary opponents have used in their campaigns against him.  And this from a newspaper that often decries the insidiously nasty tone of political campaigns these days.     The timing of the endorsement, and the endorsement itself, raise two serious questions that we in the news media should be debating:

  1. Why should the media become players in an election race rather than observers, investigators and analysts?
  2. And why do the media think they have to “educate” voters by making endorsements?

    On the former, we in the news media, including reporters, have traveled a long way from our once-prized reputation for being disinterested, objective observers and interpreters of political races.  We somehow now think we have to lead readers, viewers and listeners by the nose from the darkness and into the light. 

    Rather than go places most people don’t go and come back and tell them what we saw and heard, we often go places other people don’t go and tell them what we should have seen and didn’t hear, and wring our hands with disappointment.   

     And when it comes to endorsements, the elite notion that we have to “educate” voters because they aren’t smart enough to figure things out for themselves is a public turnoff.  This we-know-better-than-you attitude – subliminal message of many editorial endorsements- demeans voters and contributes to what the public perceives as media arrogance. 

     For the good of the election process, the news media should cover the races fairly, provide full information and analysis on the candidates and their issues, express opinions in columns and leave the endorsements to the politicians and interest groups.

  Besides, an editorial endorsement doesn’t necessarily lead to the endorsee’s election.

   Ask Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate. He won the lion’s share of major newspaper endorsements that year, including that of The Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Detroit Free Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Sun-Times, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Seattle Times and the Miami Herald.  He still lost.

Richard Benedetto is a retired White House correspondent with USA Today and now teaches politics and journalism at American University in Washington, D.C. He has covered every presidential campaign since 1984. His latest book, “Politicians Are People, Too, was published in 2006.         


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What Really Happened in the New Hampshire Primary: Seniors Boosted Hillary to Victory

   By Richard Benedetto

  MANCHESTER, N.H. – So much for the youth vote.

    While the news media here relentlessly trumpeted the power and enthusiasm of young voters who reporters and pundits predicted were going to blast Barack Obama to a huge victory in the New Hampshire primary, in the end it was under-the-radar senior citizens who led Hillary Clinton to her amazing comeback win.

     Exit polls show that Obama and Clinton tied among New Hampshire voters between 18 and 64 years old, 48 percent-48 percent. But Clinton creamed Obama among the 65-and-over crowd, 48 percent to 33 percent.  And that was the difference between her return to frontrunner status and a candidacy headed for the junk heap.

     Reporters who bothered to go out to polling places here Tuesday could have seen it coming. At 10 a.m. at one Ward 6 precinct in southeast Manchester, van after van pulled up in front of a church hall and dropped off senior citizens, many with canes and some with walkers, eager to cast their ballots.

“Young people will be voting later,” one confident Obama volunteer said as she watched the seniors shuffle into the building.

   But while they might have materialized later, it wasn’t enough to catapult the charismatic Illinois senator to victory.  Polls going into the primary showed that seniors, especially senior women, were Clinton’s strongest support group. She won them in Iowa. And as evidenced by the vans pulling up to the precinct in Manchester, the Clinton campaign was well organized and tuned to get them out to vote in New Hampshire.

    True enough, Obama did get the lion’s share of the younger vote. And the under 30 crowd showed up more heavily this time than in the 2004 Democratic primary here. But so too did seniors.

   Among 18-24 year olds, many of them college students and first-time voters, Obama beat Clinton by nearly 3-1. But when you moved up one notch among younger voters to the more-mature-and-mostly-out-of-college 25-29 year olds, Clinton edged out Obama 37 percent-34 percent.

  Obama did better than Clinton among the still youthful 30-39s, but Clinton beat Obama with the 40-49 and 50-64 crowd. Thus, the tie among all voters under 65, which made the senior vote pivotal.

  Why is Clinton so popular with seniors?

   In large part, it is because she has assiduously courted them, first as a candidate for the Senate in New York and later as candidate for president. As senator, she has repeatedly visited senior centers, nursing homes and retirement communities promising to help them get better health care, prescription drug coverage and home care services from the federal government.  In New York, her Senate offices have a reputation for being responsive and helpful to seniors seeking assistance.

  Moreover, she is still seen as a champion of health care reform, even though her plan when she was first lady never passed. She gets an “A” for effort in the eyes of many seniors. Obama has no such record in that area, at least no such record that he has been able to effectively communicate to senor voters.

    Additionally, while Obama’s charisma and charm have strong appeal to starry-eyed and still idealistic young people, seniors are a bit more sober in their judgments and less swayed by the emotion of the moment.  With them, experience in public office counts more than hoopla.

    So now the pressure is on Obama to come back and win someplace. Does he continue to focus on the youth vote in states where it is not as easily organized and courted as it was in New Hampshire? Or does he try to cut into Clinton’s older-voter and senior advantage. Either way, it is an uphill battle for him.

 Richard Benedetto is a retired White House correspondent with USA Today and now teaches politics and journalism at American University. His latest book, “Politicians Are People, Too, was published in 2006.       

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