By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Balz puts his thumb on the scale

With three weeks to go, Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz has proposed a truly dangerous idea: subjecting Barack Obama to a tougher level of scrutiny than John McCain on the grounds that Obama is virtually the president-elect.

“McCain is the focus because what was thought to be a close race doesn’t look like one at this moment,” says Balz. “Which is all the more reason that the real focus now ought to be on Barack Obama.”

Guess what? If Obama wins the election, then he’ll be the president-elect. Not until then. Tough questions for both candidates ought to be the goal. Balz’s plea amounts to asking the media to put their thumbs on the scale in order to even things up.

“I’ve heard reporters admit that coverage can be biased for one reason or another — ideology, desire for a close race, personal afinity [sic] for one of the candidates — but I’ve never before seen one openly propose a double standard,” writes Jonathan Chait of The New Republic.

Obama supporters ought to be wary going into tonight’s debate, which will kick off the final leg of this endless campaign. The McCain-Palin operation has fallen apart during the past few weeks, leaving Obama with what appears to be a big lead in the polls. But members of the media don’t like telling the same story day after day, week after week. And some influential players — Balz has already signaled that he’s one of them — are going to try to change the story.

Eric Alterman reminds us that Howard Fineman of Newsweek and MSNBC has openly admitted that the media turned on Al Gore in 2000 at least in part because they didn’t want to cover his “triumphant march to the presidency.”

The danger tonight is that any minor slip-up by Obama will be magnified — and any mistake by McCain will be ignored.

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  1. mike_b1

    So where are Balz’s editors on all this? Don’t you think Bradlee would have slapped him down? I don’t know whether Brauchli is a right-winger (he came from the WSJ), but Downie clearly leaned hard to the right.

  2. Bill N1VUX

    “amounts to asking the media to put their thumbs on the scale in order to even things up.”This brings a new meaning to Fair and Balanced. All advantage must be opposed. We need a horse race or we’re irrelevant. *sigh*

  3. Ani

    “But members of the media don’t like telling the same story day after day …” Then cover a different topic, don’t pull a James Frey.

  4. Tony

    Finger on the scale or reporting … any reporting? There is a bunch of stuff out there and Obama has received a total pass from the media. He hasn’t been held to the same level that Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin have been held to. I mean, the 95 percent of families tax break when only 70 percent of Americans pay income tax? The “spread the wealth” gaff? The “I’ve been to 57 states” gaff? Biden’s mistakes throughout the VP debate, only noted by two conservative columnists? That’s just a bunch off the top of my head. The media has been totally in the bag on this one. Totally.

  5. mike_b1

    Whine, whine, whine. If in your mind Obama hasn’t been held accountable, it’s only because you haven’t been paying attention. And by the way, your pal Nader has a complete screw loose. I think he picked up one that fell out of McCain’s head.

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