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Media Bias? Yes, Against Clinton's Coronation

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Want to see real media bias? It’s coming -- in the form of trying to stir up a genuine fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

This isn’t because the press dislikes Hillary Clinton. It’s because political reporters and TV correspondents and producers always benefit from presidential elections. That puts them on the side of the underdog in a nomination battle after a clear leader emerges: The underdog promises to keep the campaign going longer.

It isn't just about higher ratings or more face time on TV. As David Weigel of Bloomberg Politics said about press incentives, “In general it’s just much more fun to cover would-be presidents scrapping for Iowa/NH than to watch a Clinton juggernaut roll in.” 

Look at Matt Bai's column at Yahoo News on Thursday. He begs Joe Biden to run.

Bai pretends Clinton is still a maybe candidate (“very few people on the planet -- possibly only people named Clinton -- know what’s really in Hillary’s mind, and in her stomach”). In fact, she has been operating at full speed ahead for years now. Sure, any candidate can drop out. But few Democrats are pushing her to make it official -- a good sign that she has been assuring everyone she isn't going anywhere. 

In arguing the case for Biden, Bai includes this stretch:

Not incidentally, Biden is especially popular in Iowa, where he first campaigned for president in 1988, and where he retains unusually strong ties. (The Clintons, you may recall, have never met with great affection there.) I remember being struck, in 2008, by the regularity with which Iowa Democrats told me that Biden was their second choice and would have been first if they thought he could actually win.

Wait a minute. The “especially popular” Biden drew … 1 percent of the vote in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Clinton, despite lacking any “great affection there,” still drew 29 percent of the caucus total. In the real world, Democrats for whatever reason don’t appear to have any interest in making Joe Biden their candidate and never have. They want Hillary Clinton.

Expect more press support for a Clinton challenger. And expect the same on the Republican side if Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or one of the others wraps up the nomination early but hasn't formally clinched it. It's what happened to George W. Bush in 2000, when the entire press corps became John McCain’s cheering section for a couple of months. The rest of us don't have to play along. 

  1. Many in the Washington press corps disliked Bill Clinton in the 1990s, but it isn't clear what that means for Hillary Clinton 20 years later.

  2. As someone who has argued that a contested nomination would be good for the Democrats and who has recommended that Biden pretend to run even if he isn't going to, I sympathize with some of Bai’s points. But that was months ago. Pending any sudden scandal a lot more serious than the e-mail flare-up, the party has decided that Clinton is going to be the nominee.

  3. That's out of seven Democrats who made it to Iowa in 2008. As for the other Clinton, he won Iowa twice in the general election, so I'm not sure how that makes him unpopular there; he didn't compete in the Iowa caucuses because favorite son Tom Harkin dominated in 1992.

    Bai’s link on “especially popular” is to a Matt Bai item from Dec. 27 in which he claims that Biden is wildly popular in Iowa, according to everyone he talks to, and that the vice president would be doing well if anyone thought he was going to do well.  Not convincing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net