On CNN's Reliable Sources (10/19/08), host Howard Kurtz and Time magazine's Mark Halperin had the following exchange:
KURTZ: Mark Halperin, we learned this morning that Barack Obama in the month of September raised $150 million…. If a Republican had not taken public financing and had raised all that money, and the Democrat was struggling financially, wouldn't we see a lot of stories about one candidate essentially trying to buy the election?
HALPERIN: We would. We'd also see a lot of stories about his going back on his word saying that he would accept the public money and would reach out to Senator McCain to try to work out a deal. So I think this is a case of a clear, unambiguous double standard, and any reporter who doesn't ask themselves, why is that, why would it be different if it's a Republican, I think is doing themselves and our profession and our democracy a disservice.
KURTZ: I think that's an excellent point, and that's the point we're going to end on.
A bigger "disservice" to democracy and journalism would be misrepresenting reality, which Halperin and Kurtz are doing here. McCain is not "struggling financially." He has raised millions of dollars for hybrid "victory" funds that funnel large donations to the RNC and various state parties. Factoring in those donations, it is not at all clear that McCain is significantly behind in the fundraising race. What's more, had Obama accepted public financing, it would seem likely that the GOP would have a major financial advantage.
Even more bizarre is Halperin's contention that if a Republican had raised money the way Obama has, he would be pilloried by the media. The double standard argument makes little sense, because we did see a lot of misleading stories about Obama "going back on his word" when he declined to take public financing, and he was severely criticized by the pundits and editorialists; a "flip-flop of epic proportions," according to PBS liberal Mark Shields, and Washington Post columnist David Broder (6/26/08) wrote that Obama "was rightly criticized for rigging the system in his favor." Such criticisms continue to this day.
As for all the stories we would see about a Republican candidate trying to buy the election: In New York City in 2005, the billionaire Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg outspent his opponent 8-to-1 in order to win re-election. Did we see a lot of stories about Bloomberg buying the election? No, we see the city's media moguls pushing to change the election rules so he can do it again.