The scene was the CNN Democratic debate. It was the next-to-last, face-to-face confrontation between the last Democratic presidential candidates standing. Except in this scene, the people on stage were "Saturday Night Live" cast member Amy Poehler, playing a spot-on Hillary Clinton, and fellow colleague Fred Armisen, struggling to get Barack Obama down (to date, no one has even come close to nailing Obama’s mannerisms.)
In the SNL skit, every question for Clinton was hard, tough and aggressive. Yet Obama was asked nothing but softballs from the debate panelists who tripped over themselves to kiss his butt to tell him how great he was. At one point in the skit, Obama encouraged the reporters to scrap the veil of objectivity and just let the world know how much they loved him and appreciated his message of “hope” and “change.”
As I watched the SNL skit with my wife Jennifer, I laughed out loud and said to her; “You know, they kind of got it right. A lot of us in the media are in the bag for Obama.” My wife responded, “Yeah, but I like him.”
So there you have it: It took a "Saturday Night Live" sketch to slap some sense into many of us in the media. Up to that point, we had been a lot tougher on Clinton than on Obama. At first, when Bill Clinton voiced that bias a few months ago, I wrote a . But as time went on, it became clear that the former president had a point.
The media’s love affair with Obama has been real, and it has greatly impacted his standing in the polls and his lead in delegates. Obama-mania has been fun. It’s good TV. Yet as the results came in from Ohio and Texas on March 4, it became clear once again that the voters — not the mainstream media — were still in charge.
“Hillary is toast!” those of us in the media have been saying for the past month. ”Put a fork in her!” ”Her campaign is on life support!” (We love clichés in the media, don’t we?) Yet, in Ohio and Texas, many voters ignored us and said, “Let the race go on!” The media often sees things in black and white — good or evil, young or old, villain or victim. Voters sometimes see more shades of gray. They see the difficult choice between two qualified candidates for president. Yes, Obama has it all as a dynamic speaker, while Clinton can be stilted and stiff, and is really hard to warm up to. Clinton's seemed to strike a chord in many voters, who are now questioning Obama's ability to handle a crisis. When I saw that 3 a.m. Clinton ad, my first reaction was that it was desperate and weak, and that most voters would see it the same way. Again, I was wrong. Many of us in the media have been consistently wrong in this campaign by miscalculating public opinion and incorrectly handicapping the presidential race.
A race to the end
So here we are. Clinton is not out of the race, and Obama is apparently not the Second Coming. It’s a race to the end, maybe even to Denver at the Democratic National Convention this summer. As for the mainstream media, especially the world of cable news, we are along for the ride, which is good for business. You can expect now that we’ll be asking tougher and more aggressive questions of Obama — questions about his NAFTA position, and about his pastor in Chicago who seems to think that Louis Farrakhan is a swell guy. We’ll also be asking about Obama’s controversial relationship with real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko. Obama was hit with some of those tough questions the other day by the media and he was very uncomfortable. He walked away on camera after a few questions and it didn’t look good. He didn’t look so charismatic and dynamic then.
We should have been asking these questions months ago, and pressing Obama the way we have done with Clinton, John McCain, and every other serious presidential candidate. That’s our mistake, and hopefully we will learn from it for future campaigns. Then again, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
is an MSNBC analyst focusing on national politics and media issues. Write to Steve Adubato at .