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Envy’s in the air over Obama and the press

Times Staff Writer

After months of frustration about what they see as fawning media coverage of Barack Obama, John McCain’s campaign went on the offensive Tuesday with a Web video called “The media is in LOVE with Barack.”

The montage features news anchors and correspondents discussing “Obamamania” to Frankie Valli tunes, including “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” It was sent to supporters to raise campaign donations in a week when McCain has been largely overshadowed by coverage of Obama’s overseas trip.

Charging the media with “a bizarre fascination with Barack Obama,” the e-mail to supporters reads: “If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny.” Among the clips is MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews reacting to Obama’s speeches: “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I don’t have that too often.” Another clip showed Lee Cowan of NBC News telling the network’s anchor, Brian Williams, about the enthusiasm of Obama’s crowds: “It’s almost hard to remain objective, because it’s infectious.”

In past campaigns, complaints about media bias have galvanized conservatives, which could help McCain as he tries to solidify the Republican base. In February, the campaign sought donations by citing a widely criticized New York Times report about McCain’s ties to a female lobbyist. That appeal set a campaign record for the amount raised online in one day to that point.

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But the sentiments in the fundraising e-mail Tuesday were also a public expression of months of grumbling by McCain advisors, who sarcastically call Obama “The One.”

Ironically, McCain’s own good relations with the media over the years have been the envy of his opponents. He has even joked about the press being his “base.”

On McCain’s plane from New Hampshire to Baltimore on Tuesday, advisor Mark Salter cited analyses by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which studies the fairness of coverage by evaluating campaign articles. The project found Obama had a “distinct advantage” over McCain in the six weeks since Hillary Rodham Clinton left the race. Obama has appeared as a leading newsmaker in 78% of election stories, and McCain in 51%.

Salter joked that he’d moved from anger to resignation. “It is what it is,” he said. “I would contend that the facts will show that Obama gets 50% more attention in the news than McCain does, post the primaries. I don’t know if that is good or bad for us.”

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When news anchor Katie Couric asked him Tuesday about the video, which spliced red hearts and titles like “He makes them swoon” between the news clips, McCain said news coverage had been fair.

“I’m a big boy,” he told Couric on “CBS Evening News.” “And I’m enjoying every minute of the campaigning. And I’m certainly not complaining.”

But those comments do not reflect the mood of his aides. They were visibly upset, for example, that at least two networks cut away from McCain’s speech the night Obama clinched the nomination.

Aides point out that McCain’s foreign trips have received scant attention compared with the 200 requests Obama’s campaign fielded from news organizations to travel with the candidate this week. All three network news anchors went with Obama. Just a few reporters accompanied McCain on his trip to Iraq, Israel and Europe, and there was little fanfare over his recent jaunt to Colombia and Mexico.

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“There was a very small group of reporters that went with him,” Salter said of McCain’s March trip. “We were open to all comers. . . . Three anchors didn’t go over.”

At the same time, Obama’s “world tour,” as one McCain aide mockingly called it, may have an upside for McCain. It has given the Arizona senator a breather in his daily jousts with Obama at a time when he is trying to refine his message.

This week, visiting the swing states of Maine and New Hampshire, McCain has repeatedly targeted Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience and has argued that he, McCain, is best suited to address rising gas prices and the faltering economy.

McCain spoke about the economy at a picnic Monday and made a triumphant return Tuesday to New Hampshire, where an enthusiastic crowd packed the Rochester Opera House.

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In his bluntest words yet, McCain used Obama’s trip to question his foreign policy judgment and accuse him of putting political interests first.

McCain faulted Obama for initially opposing the troop surge in Iraq. “I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war,” he said. “It seems to me that Sen. Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.”

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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