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Democratic Rivals Accuse Media of Bias

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well now that the Democratic race seems closer than ever and the outcome is even more in doubt, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are sharpening their criticism of one another and they're going after John McCain, the certain Republican nominee. But they're saving some of their fire for the media.

As NPR's Peter Overby reports, both campaigns are promoting the notion that the news media are biased.

PETER OVERBY: It took that barometer of pop culture, "Saturday Night Live," to make the media bias argument take hold. The show has lampooned the Clinton-Obama debates twice in two weeks. With special barbs aimed at the press, here is Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton last Saturday.

(Soundbite of TV show "Saturday Night Live")

Ms. AMY POEHLER (Actress): (As Hillary Clinton) I'm sorry. Is that really the toughest question you could think of to ask him because, frankly, there are several issues where he's more vulnerable?

Mr. WILL FORTE (Cast, Saturday Night Live): Excuse me, we'll ask the questions here, sister.

(Soundbite of laughter)

OVERBY: And then came the real Clinton.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): The scene you just saw was a re-enactment, sort of, of last Tuesday's debate and not an endorsement of one candidate over another. I can say this confidently because when I asked if I could take it as an endorsement, I was told, absolutely not.

OVERBY: The new conventional wisdom held that reporters had gone in the tank for Obama. Then came Tuesday, with four primary and caucus states, a day of bad press for Obama, headlines proclaimed Clinton's win in the Ohio and Texas primaries, not his own continuing lead in the delegate count.

Also this week, a former political patron and money man of Obama's, Tony Rezko, went on trial for corruption charges. Obama isn't implicated. His name never came up in the prosecutor's opening arguments today. Still, if there have been plenty of Obama-Rezko stories fueled, in part, by the Clinton campaign. Now, the Obama Campaign is pushing back. It's raising questions on one of Clinton's core arguments that he's been thoroughly vetted and thus, free of scandal. Obama talked about it last night on his campaign plane.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I think it's important to examine that argument because if the suggestion is somehow that -on issues of ethics or disclosure or transparency, that somehow she's going to have a better record than I have and will be better able to withstand the Republican attacks, I think that's an issue that should be tested.

OBERBY: The Obama Campaign has a litany of issues to raise. Who gave money to Bill Clinton's Presidential Library? The list has never been made public. Why haven't the Clintons released her first lady papers? Why hasn't Hillary Clinton released her tax returns as Obama has? The tax return question came up in the Clinton campaign's conference call with reporters this morning. Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said they'll be released before the Pennsylvania primary April 22. He also said this:

Mr. HOWARD WOLFSON (Spokesman, Clinton Campaign): I, for one, do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president, but perhaps that theory will be tested.

OVERBY: Ken Starr, of course, was the independent prosecutor who investigated Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky case through much of Bill Clinton's term as president. Megan Garber is a writer for Columbia Journalism Review who's been covering the campaign coverage. She says a few reporters do seem to be in the tank for Obama.

Ms. MEGAN GARBER (Assistant Editor, Columbia Journalism Review): Ultimately, reporters thrive on newness and drama and excitement, and I think that's been especially true in this campaign given that the primary has basically been going on for a year.

OVERBY: And this presidential campaign will be going on for another eight months with plenty of time to take more swings at the press coverage.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The money continues to roll in for this year's presidential candidates. Barack Obama's campaign announced today that it raised $55 million in February, that's just in 29 days. So far he's raised a total of $193 million.

SIEGEL: Hillary Clinton has also been raking it in. Her campaign has raised $4 million since Tuesday, and they say have $300,000 new donors. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Overby
Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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