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.