The first presidential election I voted in was in 1984, meaning I grew up in the heyday of the New Right, morning in America, the Christian Coalition and all that.
Perhaps no axiom was presented more on faith back then, and since, than the notion that the "media" (that monolithic entity) had a liberal bias.
Puhleeeze. Not sure it was true then. But now? Fox News is clearly pro-Republican (but only as a corrective! they shout, as though two wrongs make a professional argument), and everyone else is so afraid of the accusation of bias that they bend over backwards to not appear to be so. The problem with this is that it means distorting the truth--because sometimes the truth is not what the GOP wants to hear.
If you go to just about any site that gives you raw polling numbers (like this one)(or this one), you will see that Barack Obama has been making steady gains since the first debate and the economic crisis, is well ahead in most swing states, and--were elections held today--would win heartily. Polling shows he is ahead in 10 of 12 "swing" states, in several cases by double digits. The polling data was so disheartening to the McCain campaign that earlier this week they decided to pull out of Michigan, basically conceeding defeat in that state.
Yet, remarkably, as of today, nearly a week after the GOP has pulled out of that state, The Los Angeles Times has it listed as a "toss up" and the Washington Post still has Michigan "leaning" Obama, but by less than 10%.
Let me repeat that. The polls were so bad that the Republican party QUIT THE STATE, and a week later the LA Times says, "Eh, too close to call."
The Washington Post says that 174 electoral votes are from states "leaning" Republican and only 168 "leaning" Democrat, implying through the headlines not only that the race is close but that John McCain has a slight lead. The Times not only lists Florida and Ohio (where recent polls show Obama up by 8% points) as "toss ups" but also New Mexico, Oregon, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. By contrast, Virginia, a state where the most recent polling shows Obama ahead by as few as 2 points (in Republican friendly polling) and as many as 10 (in some network polls) is not a "toss up" but squarely in the McCain column! CNN finally got around to putting Michigan in the "leaning Obama" category, and continues to list New Mexico as only "leaning Obama." Meanwhile, North Carolina, a state in which most Public Policy Polling data has shown Obama up by six points is listed as "leaning McCain" while Florida, which shows Obama ahead by a margin outside the margin of error and Ohio which currently shows Obama with a lead four times as great at the one McCain is alleged to have in the best NC polls are both shown as "toss ups."
I suppose one might argue that after the 2000 debacle where major media outlets called Florida for Gore based on exit polls that the media is reluctant to project a winner. But that's not quite the same thing as projecting a leader.
I really think the main reason is that the idea of a "close" election is a better story. It gives people reasons to tune in and drives ratings up. Who cares if it is true? Who cares if the media increasingly shapes the story by creating the impression that things are what they aren't and then wringing their hands about how strange it is that it is so close...creating a perception that Americans are more skeptical of Obama than the numbers say we are.
The second link above shows that even when taking the most McCain friendly polls (Rassmussen, aka Fox news), that show Virginia within the margin of error rather than a double digit Obama lead and Ohio being a tie rather than a 5-6 point Obama edge, that even the most McCain friendly polls show Obama winnign by about 130 electoral votes.
I'm reminded of the old 80s joke about how an American and a Soviet were in a marathon. The American won by 12 minutes. The next day Pravda reported: "In an international footrace, the Soviet runner finished second. The American runner was next to last."
The LA Times would probably just say, "The results were too close to call."