In the news today, more media coverage of media coverage that has not actually happened yet: namely, the jockeying among TV news anchors and star reporters to follow Barack Obama on his upcoming trip overseas. (The precise details, including times and some locations, are apparently being kept under wraps for security reasons.) Some media critics—and in particular the McCain campaign—say the coverage of Obama’s foreign jaunt, as opposed to McCain’s earlier trips, is unbalanced.
Which of course it demonstrably is. The question is whether it’s unfair.
The argument being made by media organizations is that they have more interest in the Obama trip because there’s more curiosity about it among their audience. Whereas McCain has taken similar trips abroad before and has been a national political figure for a couple decades, Obama is a relatively new figure—and presumptive nominee, and pop-culture sensation—and hence more people have more questions about what he believes and how he’ll do. (Which, by the way, is a pretty nimble way for the Obama campaign to turn the “inexperience” bug into a feature.)
I’m going to take the coward’s / lazy-man’s out for the moment and sidestep the question of whether an Obama overseas trip actually is more newsworthy than one by McCain. But if we assume for the sake of argument that it is, then it’s not the repsonsibility of news organizations to pull back on their coverage simply in the name of some principle of “balance.” It’s the most simplistic, and useless, kind of balance to treat it as a simple math equation; i.e., if McCain gets 14 minutes of network-news airtime when he goes to Iraq, then Obama gets exactly 14 minutes too.
Rather, real useful balance means giving as thorough and critical attention to each on candidate on those issues where there’s news to be made (which obviously is a tricky determination). McCain might legitimately draw more news attention when he focuses his campaign on areas in which he has less of a track record. Say, using the Internet, for instance. Maybe he could get an entourage of evening-news crews if he took a trip to an Apple Store.