Saturday, November 8, 2008

Washington Post Ombudsman - Hell yeah are we biased.

The Post provided a lot of good campaign coverage, but readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts.

My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 last year on issues, voters, fundraising, the candidates' backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants. We also have looked at photos and Page 1 stories since Obama captured the nomination June 4. Numbers don't tell you everything, but they give you a sense of The Post's priorities.

The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories. The Post was deficient in stories that reported more than the two candidates trading jabs; readers needed articles, going back to the primaries, comparing their positions with outside experts' views. There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues.


But Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got, especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager.

Isn't it fun when such things are admitted AFTER the election. I don't really care about the drug use of Obama but then I didn't care about Joe the Plumber but the Post found a way to report on him including details about his licensing and liens. The difference of course is bias and sadly, Joe the Plumber was a campaign prop while Barack Obama is president-elect.

One gaping hole in coverage involved Joe Biden, Obama's running mate. When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought The Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden. They are right; it was a serious omission. However, I do not agree with those readers who thought The Post did only hatchet jobs on her. There were several good stories on her, the best on page 1 by Sally Jenkins on how Palin grew up in Alaska.

Joe who? Biden? The name sounds vaguely familiar. By chance is he a plumber? No. Hmmmm, he is running mate on the ticket and has been serving in the United States Senate for 30 years but you can't seem to find anything on him. That indeed is telling. Can anything but bias explain why we know more about one Joe and nothing about the other?