The US media have abandoned all pretence at neutrality in the Democratic presidential contest and are heavily biased towards Barack Obama and against Hillary Clinton, according to Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania.
By Edward Luce in Washington
Mr Rendell, who has endorsed Mrs Clinton for the Pennsylvania primary which takes place next week, alleged that US media bias against the former first lady was “the worst [instance of favouritism] I have seen in my 31 years in politics”.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Rendell said the only mainstream programme that had offered Mrs Clinton positive coverage was Saturday Night Live, the comedy show. In February it aired a skit in which journalists were depicted offering Mr Obama a pillow and continually asking whether he was comfortable.
“The media has drunk the Kool-Aid with Obama…they have fallen in love with the message and the messenger,” said Mr Rendell. “Clearly the producers of Saturday Night Live agree with that view.”
Mr Rendell, who predicted that Mrs Clinton would win Pennsylvania by a margin of between 5 and 9 percentage points, singled out MSNBC, the 24-hour news channel owned by NBC, for particular criticism. He joked that Keith Olbermann, who hosts an unabashedly opinionated evening show, “has to be on the Obama payroll” and that MSNBC was the “Obama campaign’s official channel”.
He also cited an instance where Brian Williams, an NBC presenter, had congratulated an NBC reporter after he confessed he found it hard to remain objective covering Mr Obama’s campaign because his appeal was so “infectious”.
“They don’t even pretend to be objective,” said Mr Rendell. “The media dislike the Clintons and harbour a lot of resentments against them.”
Mr Rendell also alleged that the media in general, including newspaper editorials, had “bought” the Obama campaign’s argument that Mrs Clinton had to win next week’s primary in Pennsylvania by a 15 per cent margin or more “otherwise she will have lost the primary”.
“Nobody wins Pennsylvania by double-digit margins,” he said. “So why are they setting the bar impossibly high for Hillary Clinton?”
Obama campaign officials dispute the Clinton camp’s allegations of media bias and point out that Mr Obama has been subjected to harsh scrutiny over his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, whose more incendiary comments have been widely circulated on Fox News and other channels. Obama officials say that for much of 2007 the media portrayed Mrs Clinton’s candidacy as “inevitable” and depicted her campaign as “flawless”. But Mr Rendell says the media are far more forgiving of Mr Obama’s mistakes than Mrs Clinton’s.
He pointed to an article in the Harrisburg Patriot last week that alleged inconsistencies in Mr Obama’s claim that he refused to accept donations from federal lobby groups. It found Mr Obama had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations directly from people in the health, pharmaceutical and oil industries.
The paper found fault with Mr Obama for repeatedly saying he did not take any money from the oil industry – a truism since it has long been illegal in the US for any candidate to do so. “If this article had been about Mrs Clinton it would have been picked up by the national media,” said Mr Rendell.
Many commentators were putting forward the “ludicrous” argument Mrs Clinton should drop out since a protracted race could damage the Democrats in the general election fight against the Republicans later this year.
“Senator Obama is a much more confident candidate than he used to be and there is a tidal wave of new Democrats coming into the system,” he said. “If this race had finished last month we would have 150,000 fewer registered Democrats in Pennsylvania.”