The always-thorough folks at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) have compiled the “Top Troubling Tropes of Campaign ’08,” a handy (if alarming) roundup of eleven misleading, factually bankrupt themes that have dominated election coverage.
Not only do journalists organize the election story around the question—not terribly helpful to voters—of who's up and who's down, they largely base their evaluation of the race on shallow image-based narratives that the media construct themselves: Barack Obama is an "elitist" who might not "get the way we live" (Extra!, 8/08), while John McCain is a straight-talking "maverick" (Extra!, 6/08).
The FAIR report goes well beyond deconstructing the “maverick” and “elitist” labels (Troubling Tropes #1 and 2), using extensively sourced analysis to rebut the claim that the so-called liberal media has “smeared” vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (#3) and contesting the media’s treatment of John McCain as a “national security pro” (#4).
Then there’s “false balance” (#8), in which the media’s fact-checking is doled out “equally”—you know, debunk an Obama claim, then one of McCain's, then back to Obama, and so on.
In recent elections, media "fact-check" reporting often bends over backwards to choose an equal number of falsehoods or distortions from each side—which can give voters a misleading impression of the prevalence of political lying when one side is obviously more guilt of exaggerations.
In this election, it is beyond question that that the McCain/Palin campaign has been more aggressively lying in its campaign ads and rhetoric than the Obama/Biden camp. Nonetheless, the overriding media tendency is to blunt that disparity and see the campaign as a series of back-and-forth attacks. . . .
Read the full report at FAIR’s website.