John Heilemann's insightful column in New York magazine this week does a very good job of explaining how Barack Obama has managed to garner more favorable press coverage than Hillary Clinton. Heilemann notes some of the more obvious reasons (the media likes Obama more, northeastern liberals want a black president, etc.) and then gets to the crux of his argument:

All these theories contain at least some truth, but it’s the last one that edges closest to what I think has actually gone on. Campaigns are, at bottom, a competition between memes: infectious ideas that gather force through sheer repetition. The most powerful of these memes are what Just refers to as meta-narratives, the backdrops against which everything plays out in the media. “Clinton’s meta-narrative,” she says, “is that she’ll do anything to win; she can’t be trusted, she’s ethically challenged; she’s manipulative, calculating, and programmed.” Obama’s meta-narrative is decidedly otherwise. “It’s the same, in a way, as John McCain’s,” says Just. “He’s authentic, honest, free of taint. Then you add in new, charismatic, and an agent of change.”

It's tough to run in this environment, to be sure, but the Clinton camp has only made the situation worse:

By arguing that one of Clinton’s key virtues was her ability to go toe-to-toe with the GOP attack machine, her campaign exacerbated instead of ameliorated her reputation for ruthlessness. “By bragging about how tough they were,” says John Edwards’s former chief strategist, Joe Trippi, “they reinforced the sense of the media that everything they did had a negative cast to it.” At the same time, Trippi argues, “it made it really hard for them to call Obama on his shit. How can you complain about Obama being negative when you’re bragging about your willingness to do the same thing against the Republicans?”

Exactly. Moreover, for months now the Clinton campaign has been trying to sell reporters on the idea that Obama is too much of an unknown quantity to face the GOP in November. Do the Dems really want to take a huge risk and nominate him, they ask? But, when you have spent years bragging about how tough you are, people assume that if there was anything terrible out there on your opponent, you would have found it by now. This is why the controversies over things like Barack Obama's kindergarten papers have made the Clintonites look foolish. Not only do they appear nasty and negative, but they also signal to the press, "Hey, we're the best in the business and all we could find on this guy was that he wanted to be president at age five." You have shot yourself in the foot...twice.

Anyway, read the whole piece. 

--Isaac Chotiner