Rocky, Post go all out for inaugural

Dave Kopel

Rocky Mountain News, January 24, 2009

Has there ever been such a frenzy of Denver newspaper attention to a presidential inauguration?

To find out, I surveyed the archives of the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. I counted staff-written articles (not articles from wire services or other newspapers) on the day before the inauguration of President Barack Obama (Jan. 19) and in the rest of the preceding week (Jan. 13-18). I didn't include stories that only briefly referenced the impending event.

In 2001, the Rocky had Mike Littwin and M.E. Sprengelmeyer in Washington, D.C., at inauguration time. There were seven staff-written articles from Jan. 13-18, and none on Jan. 19, 2001.

That year, the Post relied on Bill McAllister and Mike Soraghan of its Washington bureau. There were three staff-written stories oninauguration eve, and five during the week before.

In 1993, for Bill Clinton's inaugural, the Rocky sent no one to Washington, and used John Brinkley of its Washington bureau. There were six staff-written stories Jan. 13-18, and three on the 19th. The Post had six in the pre- inaugural week, and four on the 19th.

So Denver coverage for Bush 2001 and Clinton 1993 were roughly comparable. That's evidence against the theory that Democraticinaugurations get more coverage because of left-wing bias by the media.

In 2009, the Rocky had 20 staff-written stories about the inaugural from Jan. 13-18, and 10 more on inauguration eve. TheRocky sent Mike Littwin, Bill Johnson, Lisa Ryckman and Kevin Vaughn, plus M.E. Sprengelmeyer, who is based in D.C.

The Post dispatched Karen Crummy, Michael Riley, John Ingold, Carlos Illescas and Sally Ho. There were six staff-written stories oninauguration eve, and 13 in the previous six days.

In short, the papers threw an Obamapalooza, ratcheting the coverage up closer to the level of a British paper covering a coronation than to the ordinary level of an American paper covering a new president.

The papers repeatedly told us that the inauguration of Obama (apparently unlike Bill Clinton or George W. Bush) was "historic." On the issues, there's little difference between what Obama proposes and what Hillary Clinton had promised during her campaign. Policywise, it's hard to claim that Obama's ascendance is greatly more important than was Bill Clinton's.

Consider this Rocky inauguration headline that the new president "Launches era of hope: Old solutions won't help new-directions president solve nation's paramount problems." It could have appeared on Wednesday, but it's from Jan. 21, 1993. Plus ca hope and change, plus c'est la mme chose.

If you want a presidential inauguration that was clearly ushering in momentous change, with a tidal wave of popular support, then Reagan in 1981 stands far above anyone else in the previous 100 years. Reagan had campaigned on one of the most ideologically hard-edged platforms of any winning presidential candidate ever. (Unlike FDR, who implemented radical change after campaigning on a moderate platform.)

Reagan ousted an incumbent, winning a landslide 489 electoral votes and 44 states (compared to 365 votes and 28 states for Obama). And Reagan unexpectedly led his party to capture the U.S. Senate for the first time in a generation. So if the voting public's expressed desire for major change is the standard, Reagan should have received even more pre-inaugural coverage than Obama.

Yet during the week before Reagan's inauguration, the Post had only five staff-written articles and none on the day before. TheRocky had two on inauguration eve, and one during the preceding week.

Like Obama, John F. Kennedy was young, exciting and a powerful orator. He too offered vigorous new leadership after eight years of a Republican executive that seemed to have run out of steam by the end.

Like Kennedy, Obama is a notable first: the first openly mixed-race president. (As detailed by The New York Times on April 6, 2008, Warren Harding was part-black, but his supporters were mostly successful in suppressing public knowledge of his ancestry.) Kennedy, the first Catholic president, was in a sense even more of a pioneer than Obama, since in 1960 anti- Catholic sentiment was considered respectable in many circles, and many leading Protestant ministers warned against voting for a Catholic. But in the 2008 election cycle, overt appeals to racism were absent from respectable discourse.

For Kennedy, the Post had eight articles the week before, and two the day before. The Rocky published one article on the 19th, and four in the preceding week - preferring to concentrate its attention on praising Dwight Eisenhower.

Arguably, race is so important that the first (noncloseted) biracial president deserves coverage that dwarfs that of previous presidents. Time will tell whether Obama will win the hearts and minds of the American public and the world. But he is surely the greatest favorite of the mainstream media within living memory.

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