“We want a race”

Much of the news media is reporting that Barack Obama is pulling away from John McCain ... and suggesting that, because of low expectations, Sarah Palin need only get through tonight's debate without accidentally endorsing Obama in order to be successful. Put the two together, and it's hard to avoid the suspicion that the media is more than ready to push a McCain-Palin “comeback” narrative -- and, consciously or not, to help that comeback along.

Don't believe that kind of thing happens? Here's Brian Williams and Howard Fineman, in a September 21, 2000 exchange:

HOWARD FINEMAN: The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore. And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin - when he's ahead especially I think - talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class. I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial trilateral commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?

HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.

We want a race I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.