In the first official week of the general election, the differences between Barack Obama and John McCain on issues ranging from the economy to Iraq constituted the media’s main campaign narrative. Together, the debates over several key issues accounted for almost one-third—29%—of the campaign newshole, as measured by PEJ’s Campaign Coverage Index for June 9-15.
Hooray! “Debates over several key issues” —not gaffes or -Gates — “constituted the media’s main campaign narrative” last week!
But if you somehow missed, say, the Iraq policy differences “debate” in last week’s coverage, it might not be entirely your fault. Further along in PEJ’s report we learn that “some” of this “debate” consisted of coverage of John McCain’s Today show remark and the ensuing back-and-forth between campaigns, plus talking heads speculating on the political fallout.
Some coverage of Iraq policy differences revolved around McCain’s June 11 appearance on NBC’s Today show. When host Matt Lauer’s asked if he had a better sense of when U.S. troops could return from Iraq, McCain said, “No, but that’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq.” That brought a quick response from the Obama campaign with his surrogate, Senator John Kerry, charging that those remarks showed McCain to be “unbelievably out of touch and inconsistent with the needs and concerns of Americans.
Although that exchange illustrated substantive policy differences between the two candidates, it was also examined for its potential political impact on programs such as the June 11 edition of MSNBC’s Hardball.
A week ago Campaign Desk’s Zachary Roth wrote this about McCain on Iraq on Today:
The question of whether we want to leave U.S. troops indefinitely in the most volatile region in the world is a momentous enough issue that it deserves a full and open debate. The press should use McCain’s comment as a chance to have that debate, rather than just transcribing the competing bits of campaign rhetoric that his statement touched off.
Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.