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Media credibility won't be rebuilt as long as the imbalance of coverage continues

Issue: "Faith-based about-face," Aug. 27, 2005

The dean of American elections analysts, Michael Barone, has warned that special elections are not good indicators of subsequent regular elections, but the early August special election in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District received great attention. Republican Jean Schmidt won the race for the vacant House seat with 59,132 votes over Democrat Paul Hackett's 55,151. Ms. Schmidt got less than 52 percent of the votes in a district that the president carried by 64 percent less than a year earlier.

Democrat Hackett is a fiery Iraq war veteran who blasted President George Bush. The left side of the blogosphere rallied to his cause and especially his temperament, which is right out of a Michael Moore movie. Even though Mr. Hackett lost, the left is now excited about the next special election, coming up Oct. 4 in California's 48th Congressional District. Left-leaning blogs are promoting another full-fledged battle and an attempt to turn the race into a referendum on President Bush and the war.

Full disclosure: I know three of the candidates in the race well-Republican State Sen. John Campbell, former Republican State Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer, and University of California Professor John Graham, a Democrat. Though all three are my friends, I have contributed to John Campbell's campaign for the seat of the new SEC chair, Chris Cox.

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My focus is not on who is the best candidate for the seat-the voters will decide that point-but on the left-dominated media's tendency to overplay stories it perceives as harmful to President Bush while underplaying or ignoring those perceived as helping him. If a Republican wins by a handy margin, no follow-up reports trumpet a validation of Bush policies because that's not a message Beltway media want to send.

The same media dynamic is at work in the coverage of grieving mother Cindy Sheehan, who has received an extraordinary amount of publicity over her demands to meet a second time with the president. As Newsweek detailed in its Aug. 22 issue, Mr. Bush "has met with about 900 family members of some 270 soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan." The article details the wrenching nature of those visits, and the support and criticism the president has received by a variety of family members like Mrs. Sheehan.

The attention paid to Mrs. Sheehan, and to Paul Hackett's closer-than-expected race (but still a loss), underscores the permanent opposition to conservative presidents among most media leaders. In late June a Pew research survey found that the percentage of people saying they can believe most of what they read in their daily newspaper dropped from 84 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 2004. Pew found that people still like their local papers but just don't trust them.

Imbalance in coverage is one of the underlying reasons behind this plummeting credibility, a dynamic that will not be reversed by campaigning in Crawford with Mrs. Sheehan or selectively overplaying some off-year elections.


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