By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The latest twist in the Washington Post's unending coverage of the college thesis written by Virginia GOP Gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell involved focus groups.
After convening two focus groups, each consisting of approximately a dozen women from Fairfax County, the Post informed us that "Two Groups of Women Help Put Race Into Focus."
The first thing we learn from the story is that many women are troubled by McDonnell's now famous college thesis.
"It's just too scary, what he would do," the Post reports one participant saying.
"I think he's scary and he's anti-female," said another.
How did McDonnell supporters respond? "McDonnell may be a tad more extreme than I would like," a likely McDonnell supporter said. For the Post, even McDonnell's supporters shouldn't like him.
Much like in the campaign itself, we don't learn much about where Democratic nominee Creigh "Endorsed by the Washington Post" Deeds stands on issues, but we do learn, courtesy of a focus group respondent, "He has a good heart."
The take away for Post readers: Bob McDonnell—scary, Creigh Deeds—good heart.
If the Post's coverage sounds familiar, it should. It's a replay of the 2006 Virginia Senate campaign.
The Washington Post never much liked then-senator and former Gov. George Allen—and the feeling was mutual. When, in the 2006 Senate race, Allen called a Democratic operative a "Macaca," the paper smelled blood.
To be sure, a sitting senator insulting someone working for the opposition, and being filmed doing so, is news. But the Post didn't just report the story; the Post manufactured it into THE story voters could not escape even if they wanted. First came the coverage, then the analysis. After that, there was coverage of the analysis, and so on. And no matter what section the story came under, including multiple Metro and Style stories, it was usually page one. Unless, of course, it was on the editorial and opinion pages.
Having watched the 2006 Virginia Senate race up close (I was working for a Senate campaign in Maryland and, of course, wanted the front page coverage for my candidate), I can't tell you much about where George Allen or Jim Webb differed on the issues, only that Allen insulted a voter and Jim Webb wrote a book that contained some risqué passages. The Post's coverage might have had its desired effect, but it did not help voters make up their minds based on actual issues.
On his Twitter feed Sunday, NBC Political Director and White House Correspondent Chuck Todd wrote, "W Post's decision to convene focus groups to discuss McDonnell's past is only going to make VA GOPers suspicion of the Post grow."
After the 2006 campaign, is that even possible?
Republicans expend so much energy trying to find any perceived slight as evidence of overwhelming media bias, it can become a self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophesy. Sometimes, however, as with the Washington Post inserting itself into high profile Virginia elections in 2006 and 2009, it has the benefit of being true. And while coverage of McDonnell's college thesis may be legitimate, the Post's repeated overkill is not.
We can expect more Post coverage criticizing McDonnell's college thesis—so far it has done little to move the polls in Deeds' favor.