COMMENTS: Does Couricís Series Undercut McCain?

ABC anchor Charles Gibson raised the electoral analysis by Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager: "This election is not about issues but rather a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." His colleague George Stephanopoulos used ABC News opinion poll data to explain Davis' insight: "If you look at voters who care more about issues than personal qualities Obama has a 19% advantage; for those voters who care more about personal attributes, McCain has a 17% advantage." Stephanopoulos remarked on a similar contrast between Al Gore and George Bush in 2000.

So is CBS showing anti-McCain bias--or just straightforward journalistic judgment--by launching its series Where They Stand? Anchor Katie Couric announced her intention to devote "a large part of our broadcast between now and November 4th to telling you where the candidates stand on major issues from terrorism to health insurance, immigration to energy."

Couric's decision to focus on issues rather than personalities represents quite the switcheroo compared with earlier in the campaign. Her series of Primary Questions last winter was the leading exemplar of the school of Reality Gameshow Journalism, which values honesty and authenticity in a candidate over policies and programs. Back then Couric explained her personality preference in her approving profile of campaign consultant Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain.

Anyway, business correspondent Anthony Mason was assigned to part one of CBS' Where Things Stand, a lengthy feature--almost seven minutes--to illustrate the varying impact of the income tax platforms of the two candidates on three Ohio households, each a married couple with three children. The combination of changes in marginal rates and credits and deductions would produce $2,200 of extra income for those earning an annual $32,000 under Barack Obama's plan, nothing extra under John McCain's. For an annual income of $64,000, Obama's would render $500 extra, McCain's $225.

What about an annual income of $213,000? Curiously Mason decided not to crunch the numbers. All he would tell us was that if that income happened to improve to more than $250,000, then at the margin it would enter a different tax bracket--from 28% to 36% under Obama, from 28% to 33% under McCain. Mason did not explain why he decided to be precise about the working poor and about middle class wage earners but vague about the upper middle class small business owner.


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