Kurtz: Post’s Obama-Heavy Coverage Is “Indefensible”

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such topics as his “whining” about media access to Presidential candidates, the Post’s reaction to Bob Novak’s retirement/cancer diagnosis, and the Post’s coverage of the Presidential race. Some excerpts:

Washington: Your column yesterday was one of the biggest whine pieces I have read in a long time. What do you want, to have access to the candidate from the time he brushes his teeth until he puts on his PJs? Sometimes constant media access is bad — let the candidate breathe a bit. It’s not like the media is completely shut out.

Howard Kurtz: The whining is in your imagination. I wasn’t complaining about the limited access — I didn’t even ask for an interview — but I was reporting on how significantly the McCain campaign strategy has changed when it comes to the press. This is a candidate who told me on his plane in January that even if he won the GOP nomination, he wouldn’t limit access to reporters because “that destroys credibility.” And besides, he said, “I enjoy it a lot. It keeps me intellectually stimulated, it keeps me thinking about issues, and it keeps me associated with a lower level of human being than I otherwise would be.”

Managing the media is a major challenge for every presidential campaign, which is why I report on it.

Washington: What are the feelings inside The Post newsroom about the condition of Bob Novak? I imagine some of the folks there know him pretty well.

Howard Kurtz: Actually, most people here don’t know him at all. Novak’s column was distributed through the Chicago Sun-Times and he had no professional connection to The Post, other than the fact that we ran his column. My feeling is that the diagnosis is quite sad and that whatever you think of Novak’s journalism and his political views, he’s a guy who kept on reporting till the age of 77, well after most of his contemporaries had retired.

Re: Too many Obama photos: Howard: I’d like to take exception to the Post’s ombudsman’s criticism that there were too many photos of Obama as compared to McCain in the paper’s coverage. This reminded me of the surveys that showed how much coverage of the Bush administration was positive or negative. In that case, Fox’s coverage was shown to be about 50-50, and this was viewed by some as fair. But if most of the news surrounding the administration is bad (a struggling occupation of Iraq, budget concerns, investigations of administration officials), “fair” reporting would actually show an imbalance toward negative reporting. I would bet most of the coverage of the Hoover administration was pretty negative.

Also, if Obama is a historic figure in presidential politics and if he undertakes photogenic events — including a campaign that draws large crowds in the U.S., and a tour of the Middle East and Europe that includes meetings with major figures and a speech in front of 200,000 people — isn’t that going to cause your paper and others to print more photos of him? I’d love to know the photographic breakdown of the 1980 campaign, where I bet Reagan won the photo war. Your thoughts? Thanks.

Howard Kurtz: One hundred and twenty-two photos of Obama and 78 of McCain during the same period? Come on. That’s indefensible, and I’m not going to try to defend it. I’m not saying there has to be a 1-for-1 quota–Obama was in the news far more during his overseas trip, and of course there would be more pictures of him that week. But there has to be a rough balance. We’re not electing the most photogenic president, or at least that was my understanding. By the way, I keep making the same point about television air time, magazine covers and so on.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism says McCain’s coverage equalled Obama’s last week for the first time in the general election. A midcourse correction? Well, some of it had to do with the Paris/Britney ad.