We now know who the Democratic nominee “is gonna’ be,” declared NBC’s Washington bureau chief Tim Russert the night of May 6 as results became clear. The cover of Time magazine showcased a beaming Barack Obama with the headline: “And The Winner* Is…” Many press accounts described the Illinois Senator’s return to Capitol Hill late last week as a “victory lap.”
In a campaign with more twists than a Twilight Zone episode, the media all but officially pronounced Obama the Democratic nominee last week after he emerged with a big win in North Carolina and a near-tie in Indiana. There are only a handful of Democratic primary contests left. And the consensus was that Hillary Clinton needed a stronger showing on May 6 to change the increasingly insurmountable-looking pledged delegate math and/or the superdelegates who have been steadily migrating to Obama.
Ironically, in the week that calls for her to drop out grew louder, Clinton generated her highest level of coverage this year. According to PEJ’s Campaign Coverage Index, she was a significant or dominant factor in 70% of the campaign stories from May 5-11. Obama was a close second, at 67%. But at only 12%, Republican John McCain ended up with his lowest level of coverage in 2008.
One other narrative also began to suggest itself last week in the coverage. Even though McCain has been virtually relegated to the role of bystander as the Democrats battled on, that may soon change. Late last week, coverage began to focus on Obama’s pivot away from his race with Clinton toward a campaign against the presumptive GOP nominee. That was a theme of a May 11 New York Times story noting that “Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are already drawing up strategies for taking each other on in the general election, focusing on the same groups — including independent voters and Latinos — and about a dozen states where they think the contest is likely to be decided this fall, campaign aides said.”
Read the full report The Media Hear The Fat Lady Humming on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.