Given that cable news and the internet are abuzz with talk of Robert Johnson's despicable allusions to Obama's teenage drug use, I was curious to see what Clinton surrogates would be saying about the matter. And, sure enough, Chris Matthews had Sheila Jackson Lee, an African-American Congresswoman from Texas, on to talk about the campaign (she's a big Clinton supporter). Anyway, Matthews asked her what she thought about the comments. She conspiculously did not even try to address the question, instead blathering on about Hillary's heart. Matthews then discussed the issue with an Obama surrogate before returning to the Congresswoman. This time Matthews played the tape of Johnson's comments and again asked Lee for some sort of response. Surely at this point, I thought, she would say the comment was disgusting but that it was "time to move on and talk about the issues blah blah blah"--or whatever. But no, again she ignored the question and instead discussed Hillary's committment to civil rights. If the Clinton camp had any desire to get the message out that this sort of garbage would not be tolerated, it wasn't reaching the intended audience (and Lee is not just some fundraiser--she's a "serious" member of Congress).

But now to the even stranger part. Matthews clearly despises Hillary Clinton and could not contain his glee early last week when it appeared that she was on track to get blown out in New Hampshire. He also seems particularly keen on Obama, and has taken a lot of heat in the past week for showing a lack of "balance." And yet, wouldn't you know it, after hearing Lee's nonsense for a few minutes, he said nothing. No serious criticism of Clinton, no harsh words for Lee's dodge, no loss of temper. What had happened to Chris Matthews? 

Well, here's a theory: the media is so scared of being seen as anti-Clinton that they are now letting this stuff go more unchallenged than it should be.

Coincidentally, I noticed in that Times poll this morning that:

Fifty-one percent of Democratic primary voters said the news media had been harder on Mrs. Clinton than on other candidates; 12 percent said the news media had been harder on Mr. Obama. Women were particularly likely to feel that she had been unfairly treated, while men were evenly divided.

It's hard to argue with the fact that Obama has gotten more favorable coverage--not to mention the unfortunate reality that the media makes life tougher on female candidates in all sorts of ways. But there is a difference between being fair to candidates (which the media should be), and being hard on certain candidates when circumstances demand it. Not all campaigns are run with the same amount of honesty or integrity. Not all candidates (and their staffs) behave in an equally appropriate manner. And for that reason, it's imperative that the media not report every issue in an "On the one hand,...On the other hand..." manner. 

--Isaac Chotiner