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Bracing For the Goo

When Sen. John Kerry arrived in Boston for the last Democratic convention, the TV news stars thought they'd died and gone to political heaven. Dan Rather said Kerry's speech drove the crowd in Boston into "a three-thousand-gallon attack about every three minutes," and Newsweek's Jon Meacham was comparing Kerry to Abraham Lincoln on MSNBC. If media liberals can get that excited over Kerry, viewers may have to worry about the anchors lapsing into diabetic comas over Barack Obama's ascension convention in Denver.

It's easy to forget just how "tick tight," as Rather once put it, the primary race was between Obama and Hillary Clinton. It ended up with a vote gap of just one tenth of a percentage point. The real difference-maker in the 2008 race was the Obama favoritism of the national media, led by the television networks. It was his margin of victory.

Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center spent weeks crunching numbers from an exhaustive study of ABC, CBS, and NBC coverage of Barack Obama, from his first network soundbite in 2000 through the end of the primaries, a study of more than 1,300 stories. "Coverage" is too bland a word. "Anointing" might be more appropriate.

Obama received his best press when it mattered the most. How could someone with his utter lack of national expertise and name identification seem to become an overnight heavyweight? The networks showered praise on Obama for his convention keynote speech in 2004. Out of 81 total stories about Obama from 2004 up until his official kickoff in 2007, not one was a negative report, critical of him. Not one.

Overall, the three broadcast networks gave Obama nearly seven times more good press than bad press. There have been 462 positive stories (34 percent of the total) compared to just 70 stories (or five percent) that were negative. The rest were classified as neutral. "NBC Nightly News" was the most aggressive, with 179 Obama-boosting stories, compared to just 17 negative ones, a ten-to-one margin. "CBS Evening News" was almost as bad, with a 156-to-21 gap between positive stories and negative ones.

When network reporters went looking for voters to interview, there was no effort exerted to achieve balance. Of 147 average citizens who expressed an on-camera opinion about Obama, 114 (78 percent) were pro-Obama, compared to just 28 (19 percent) that were negative, with the remaining five offering a mixed opinion. Obama wasn't winning primary elections over Mrs. Clinton by a 78-to-19 percent smackdown, but he clearly won the Average Joe soundbite primary.

Network reporters not only accentuated the positive, they tried to eliminate the negative. Look at labels. The networks minimized Obama's liberal ideology, only referring to him as a "liberal" 14 times in four years (many of those came in 2004). In contrast, reporters found twice as many occasions (29) to refer to Obama as a star during the same period, whether he was a "rock star," "rising star" or "superstar."

The networks also downplayed or ignored what could have been major Obama gaffes and scandals. Obama's relationship with convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko was the subject of only two full reports (one each on ABC and NBC) and mentioned in just fifteen other reports. CBS played it down in just part of a story, with reporter Dean Reynolds insisting "no one has charged Obama with wrongdoing, something he has been quick to point out." No one cared very much that a political fixer headed to prison had helped Barack Obama buy his pricey house in Chicago.

CBS and NBC also initially downplayed controversial statements from Obama's longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright, but excessively praised Obama's March 18 speech on race relations, his response to the Wright furor. The networks ran minute-long soundbites complete with family pictures. Liberal and conservative pundits alike came on TV and honored the Obama address as a historic moment.

What of Wright's more outrageous claims, such as the ridiculous conspiracy theory that the U.S. government invented the AIDS virus as part of a plan to eliminate the black race? Rev. Wright appeared on Fox's "Hannity & Colmes" on March 1, 2007, but it took the networks an entire year to even mention his name. By the time ABC ran its first vicious Wright soundbite, 42 states and D.C. had already voted.

When the convention starts in Denver, viewers might want to step into their rubber hip boots and wade through all the sugary goo. The nominee will be compared to Moses, George Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Tiger Woods before it's all through. We can only imagine how monstrously upset they'll be that the Republicans dare to assemble and oppose their beatific vision.