May 31, 2012

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei’s look at media bias carefully lays out Republicans’ case that the press is unduly biased toward President Obama and against Mitt Romney: “The New York Times has given Obama the longest wet kiss in political history, and they have done him a favor again,” Haley Barbour tells the reporters about Trip Gabriel’s story on Ann Romney’s equestrian pursuits. Allen and VandeHei note that stories about Romney’s wealth and cruel teenage pranks land on newspaper front pages, while stories about Obama’s pot-smoking run on interior pages. They also suggest that the media doing those stories at all is a problem: “The press never ran probing, sneering stories about candidate Obama, and yet The Washington Post and New York Times are on overtime covering who-cares stories about Mitt Romney,” Ari Fleischer tells them.

The Times gets to rebut: “Despite what some people in both Chicago and Boston might think or hope, we’re not part of the communications strategy of either the Obama or Romney campaigns, and if they are looking to us to play an assigned role, they’re going to be disappointed,” political editor Richard Stevenson tells Politico in an email.

Jason Horowitz’s Washington Post story about Romney’s teenage hijinks, though, gets an unusual treatment from Allen and VandeHei:

The reality is that presidential nominees get every chapter of their lives exhumed and prodded – and should. And The Post story, by Jason Horowitz (“Romney’s pranks could go too far”), alleges more than harmless hijinks: It reported that Romney was part of a group that held down a kid they believed to be gay and chopped off some hair, an incident several involved said they feel ashamed about until this day.

But the 5,500-word account was invested with far more significance than it merited, and is more voyeuristic than relevant to assessing Romney’s readiness for office.

The question of story placement in print products is a little surprising since if we voracious news consumers have learned anything from websites like Politico, which is owned by the same company that owned my former employer,, it’s that on the Internet, every story has a fair chance at becoming a huge “talker.” But I also think it’s fair to look at how Politico played the Romney pranks story.

Some may see hypocrisy here; I merely see Politico fulfilling its mission to aggressively and thoroughly cover the stories of the day, no matter how voyeuristic or irrelevant they may be.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
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