Barack Obama has taken a terrible beating in the media for reversing himself and rejecting public financing for his presidential campaign. While it is true that the presumptive Democratic nominee, flushed with cash, changed his position, most media outlets are failing to point out that John McCain applied for public financing during the primary and then changed his mind as well.
While the subject of public financing is not a sexy topic, coverage of the subject illustrates how the media continues to hold Obama to a different standard than McCain.
After Obama opted out of receiving public funds, McCain said, "This election is about a lot of things but it's also about trust. It's also about whether you can take people's word. ... [This] is a big deal, a big deal. He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment he made to the American people."
MediaMatters.org, the media watchdog group, observed, "McCain's comments were widely reported — but few news organizations bothered to point out that McCain has 'completely reversed himself' and gone back on his word on public financing during this campaign."
It continued, "John McCain said he would take public financing for the Republican primaries. Then he used the promise of that public financing to help secure a loan for his campaign. Then, after he wrapped up the Republican nomination, he abruptly decided he did not want to be bound by the limits on campaign fundraising and spending that accompany public financing, so he announced that he had changed his mind.
"But Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason sent McCain a letter saying that he cannot unilaterally opt out of the public financing system without FEC approval — a letter the McCain campaign ignored. If McCain cannot opt out of the system unilaterally, he has broken the law by raising and spending funds in excess of legal limits, and continues to do so each day. Even if McCain isn't breaking the law, he has already broken his word and 'reversed himself' on the question of whether he would take public funding for the primaries."
Instead of confronting McCain about "reversing himself," many reporters have served as uncritical lackeys for McCain. Consider the one-sided reporting by Dean Reynolds on CBS:
REYNOLDS: Given Obama's fundraising prowess, forgoing federal money was not a big surprise, nor was the attempt to make it seem in line with the change he advocates.
OBAMA: ''m asking you to try to do something that's never been done before: declare our independence from a broken system and run the type of campaign that reflects the grassroot values that have already changed our politics and brought us this far.
REYNOLDS: But it is a big reversal. Only months ago, Obama was signaling a willingness to preserve public financing. No wonder John McCain smelled a flip-flop.
Here's Carl Cameron on Fox News' "Special Report with Brit Hume' [June 19]
CAMERON: Obama's raised more than twice what McCain has during the primaries and has nearly twice the cash on hand, which, by law, may not be spent after the candidates' nominating conventions. Obama's got another $10 million banked for his campaign after the convention and is expected to raise at least $200 million more, which would more than double the $84.1 million dollars that McCain will receive in public funds. It's a 2-to-1 Obama advantage and a flip-flop Obama tries to justify by arguing he'll need it to counter what he predicts will be millions in attack ads by independent GOP groups trying to help McCain.
CNN's Candy Crowley succinctly put the issue in perspective: "If you raise more than a quarter-billion dollars in the primary season, would you limit yourself to $85 million in the fall campaign? Duh."
And that is the point. McCain, in the end, opted for public financing because he can't compete with the Obama fundraising machine. Yes, both men changed their original position. However, McCain is the only one allowed to switch positions while sanctimoniously accusing his opponent of doing a flip-flop.
Along those same lines, The New York Times is buying into spin from the McCain camp.
MediaMatters notes, "In a June 22 article, New York Times national political correspondent Adam Nagourney reported that Sen. John McCain 'has promoted an image as a renegade' in the Senate, and that 'McCain is, to a considerable degree, sprinting away from his own party and looking to distance himself from an unpopular incumbent president.' But Nagourney did not note that according to Congressional Quarterly, a nonpartisan publication that tracks legislators' votes, McCain was the Bush administration's most reliable supporter in the Senate in 2007, voting with the president 95 percent of the time."
Reporters are not doing a flip-flop in covering politics this year – journalists are simply being a flop.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.