21 July 2008


If you looked at the top two stories on VOANews.com at the same time we did today (around 10:45AM Eastern), you’d see they were both about U.S. Democratic Party Presidential contender Barack Obama. (See here and here.)

In fact, if you were to run a search at that same time for the name of Obama’s Republican Party rival, John McCain, you’d find most of the first 10 hits for McCain were actually stories about Obama! Take a look:

Obama Gets First-Hand Look at Iraq War US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama meets with senior Iraqi officials, US military commanders 21 July 2008
Obama Says US Must Focus on Threats in Afghanistan Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee spoke after meeting with Afghanistan's president in Kabul 20 July 2008
Obama Meets Karzai in Kabul Democratic presidential candidate promises to send more troops to Afghanistan if he wins US presidential election, calls for gradual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq 20 July 2008
Presidential Hopeful Barack Obama Meets Military Leaders in Afghanistan He visits Bagram air force base in eastern Afghanistan as part of congressional delegation 19 July 2008
Obama Seeks to Bolster Foreign Policy Credentials With Overseas Trip Obama expected to visit Iraq, Afghanistan soon 18 July 2008
Obama's Overseas Trip Draws Praise, Criticism from McCain Republican rival astonished Obama would deliver foreign policy speech on Afghanistan before visiting country 18 July 2008
US Candidate Obama Raises $52 Million in June Amount is more than double what Republican McCain rival raised 17 July 2008
Former Vice President Gore Issues US 10 Year Electricity Challenge Al Gore challenges US to produce all of its electricity through wind power, solar power and other environmentally friendly sources within 10 years 17 July 2008
McCain Calls for Education Reform; Obama Talks Security Threats John McCain says there have been decades of big promises by public education establishment but same poor results 16 July 2008
Obama Leads McCain in 3 New Polls Polls give Senator Obama lead over Senator McCain of between six and nine points 16 July 2008

Does this suggest a bias in VOA news coverage of the election campaign?

We don’t think so. Most of the stories in the list focus on Obama’s current overseas trip --- a trip that has taken the Democratic contender to Afghanistan and Iraq. Senator McCain’s campaign is still being covered but his most newsworthy comments in recent days have been reactions to Obama’s statements abroad, thus making him a part of the same stories, just not the leading part.

Other news executives also reject the suggestion about bias. Some even blame Senator McCain for the disparity in coverage. A senior vice president of CBS News was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that by criticizing Obama for a lack of foreign policy experience, McCain raised the stakes for Obama's current overseas trip, “especially if he winds up going in to two war zones.”

The Project on Excellence in Journalism studies news coverage here in the United States. Between May 12 and July 13, it says Obama received more media attention than his rival, although not all of the news about his campaign has been positive.

Tom Rosenstiel, the Project's director, is quoted by the A.P. as saying some of the attention is understandable but he suggests something is out of balance: “No matter how understandable it is given the newness of the candidate and the historical nature of Obama's candidacy, in the end it's probably not fair to McCain.”

Rosenstiel goes on to suggest that instead of a McCain-vs-Obama contest, the 2008 Presidential campaign could become a referendum on Obama if this apparent attention gap continues.

But some see risks for Obama in all the attention focused on the Democrat. If, for example, he makes a misstep while on his foreign trip, it could convey to voters the impression he doesn’t have what it takes to be an international statesman.

Still, some, like NBC News President Steve Capus, also quoted by A.P., find the issue of an alleged coverage imbalance funny --- given that in the not-too-distant past, critics charged campaign reporters with being much too chummy (friendly) with McCain.

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