More Coverage Does Not Translate Into Better Coverage: Week Three of the Grand Rapids Press and the Obama Administration

Just Because the Grand Rapids Press Ran More Articles About Obama Doesn't Mean Readers Were Better Informed

There was a dramatic increase in the amount of stories that the Grand Rapids Press published during the third week of the new administration. The Press ran a total of 18 stories, the same number of stories for the first two weeks combined.

The stories that dominated the coverage were:

  • The stimulus plan (6)
  • Foreign policy (4)
  • Ongoing problems with some of Obama’s nominees (3)

There were no fluff stories as we documented last week, but there was a story on how the new administration will deal with making good on campaign promises.

The Stimulus and Partisan Battles

Much of the coverage on the stimulus plan was framed as a partisan “battle.”

A February 8 story begins by saying, “President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans bickered Saturday over his historically huge economic recovery plan.” However, once you got beyond the headlines most of the stories that dealt with the stimulus plan actually reflected that there was more cooperation between the two major parties than “bickering,” even if the cooperation has meant a shift to the right, as Peter Hart and John Nichols have both observed in recent articles.

A February 6, Associated Press article reported that, “A group of nearly 20 moderates from both parties–more Democrats than Republicans–huddled off and on all day Thursday in hopes of cutting as much as $100 billion from Obama’s plan.” This cooperation was continued in a February 7 story where a Republican Senator from Maine said, “The American people want us to work together. They don’t want to see us dividing along partisan lines on the most serious crisis confronting our country.”

The coverage of the stimulus plan even provided some details on what was included in the package, unlike what we documented last week. A February 4 story commented that part of the Senate version of the stimulus plan would include tax breaks for people buying homes. A February 6 article also mentioned that, “A roster of $88 billion worth of cuts was circulating, almost half of which would come from education grants to states, with an additional $13 billion in aid to local school districts for special education and the No Child Left Behind law on the chopping block as well.”

What was missing from this coverage was any commentary on how the public or non-partisan groups might respond to the proposed changes to the stimulus plan. United for a Fair Economy points out that the proposed stimulus changes by the Senate who primarily benefit “upper-income people.”

Iraq, Iran, and the New Secretary of State

Stories on US foreign policy were all over the map last week with an initial story on where President Barack Obama stands on troop withdrawal from Iraq, a story we already looked at on February 7.

On February 8, there was a story about Vice President Joe Biden’s first major foreign policy speech at the annual Munich Security Conference. The Associated Press reporter said, “his remarks set a tone of partnership in contrast to what some allies saw as a more bullying posture by the previous administration.”

The article states that Biden and the new administration does want to have open relations with Iran, but the story filed to mention that Biden was opposed to Iran developing nuclear weapons and that “Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region.” Biden, like previous administrations, does not acknowledge Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons as a possible destabilizing factor in the region.

The idea that the new administration will make a departure from the Bush years on foreign policy was also reflected in a February 8 Los Angeles Times article about Hillary Clinton’s first overseas trips as Secretary of State. Much of the Press version of the Times story focuses on how Clinton’s visit to Asia shows a priority to that part of the world, unlike Condoleezza Rice as Bush’s Secretary of State. The article also compares Clinton’s Secretary of State status to that of a celebrity by saying, “Clinton, a worldwide celebrity since the early 1990s, is expected to command even more attention, whether or not the trip reveals much about the administration’s policy plans.” Apparently, Clinton’s celebrity is more important than what the new administration’s policies will actually be.

Nominations and Governance

There were also several stories (February 3 & 4) about the ongoing nomination process with both Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer stepping down from positions because of personal tax issues. More importantly was a story on February 8, from the Associated Press that looked at the issue of whether or not the new administration would make good on their promise of staying away from lobbyists.

The story points out that on January 21, President Obama “issued an executive order barring any former lobbyists who join his administration from dealing with matters or agencies related to their lobbying work.” The article goes on to state, “However, William J. Lynn III, his choice to become the No. 2 official at the Defense Department, recently lobbied for military contractor Raytheon.”

The AP story also includes comments from a spokesperson from Democracy21, a non-profit/non-partisan group that seeks to curb the influences of big money in politics. The Democracy21 spokesperson acknowledges that the new administration has already made exceptions to the rule on having former lobbyists, but says “he focuses on Obama’s executive order and the hope of progress to come on public financing of campaigns.” This position is much different than the one expressed by the Center for Responsive Politics, which recently noted that the new administration’s “efforts are futile without a parallel order for transparency of contacts between lobbyists and government officials.”

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org