Media holding McCain to different standard
Aspen, CO Colorado
Out of the 2006 midterm election, from the pen of Andrew Ferguson at Bloomberg News, came a deliciously accurate, disturbingly close-to-home account of press courtship.
“I never saw Heifetz play the violin, or Hogan hit a five-iron, or Pavlova do a pirouette,” he wrote. “But I’ve seen John McCain work a reporter. And I know I was seeing a master at the peak of his form.”
“Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush!” reads a bumper sticker souvenir from the 1992 presidential campaign.
It sums up what’s been a longstanding antipathy for the “mainstream media,” manipulated by radio and TV mouthpieces of the Republican right. Bill O’Reilly goes into nightly, repetitive rants about how newspapers hate THIS Bush.
How will these folks, and their salivate-on-demand followers, reconcile the fact that the Republicans’ presumptive 2008 nominee is the darling of the nation’s news media?
“The press loves McCain. We’re his base,” MSNBC loudmouth Chris Matthews declared during the 2006 elections.
A new book, “Free Ride: John McCain and the Media” by David Brock and Paul Waldman, identifies Matthews as “the head of the McCain fan club among the establishment press” but says he has plenty of company.
How does McCain do it? Look at the run-up to this year’s Washington caucuses.
Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, early front-runners for the GOP nomination, talked at pricey fundraisers on local visits and snubbed the region’s media. Bill Clinton wouldn’t allow reporters to hear a dinner speech.
The day before the caucuses, local organizers begged for Hillary Clinton to give Seattle’s KOMO/4 a five-minute interview and allow regional media one question each.
A few hours later, however, McCain welcomed several of the same scribes into his van for a no-holds-barred “Straight Talk Express” interview session.
Sen. Barack Obama gave a half-hour of press availability and was basking in favorable coverage. Already, however, he was beginning to feel the media hazing that follows early success.
“We take people to the top of the mountain, and then once we get them to the top of the mountain, it’s our job to knock them down,” Gloria Borger of CBS said in 2006.
Except for McCain.
Since the Straight Talk Express headed across the White Mountains of New Hampshire in 2000, he has remained atop the mountain.
“McCain was, and is, still judged by a different standard. The myth of McCain lives on,” write Brock and Waldman.
It might be more appreciation of an independent mind than myth. McCain is deeply conservative on some issues, a superhawk on projection of U.S. force overseas, but also a conservationist who would cap carbon emissions and a reformer who would cap campaign spending. He seems to have learned from journeys into harm’s way.
“Free Ride” does show how successfully McCain plays the game.
Unending use of the phrase “maverick” and unceasing praise of McCain’s “straight talk,” have shaped a highly favorable public image at a time when ratings for his fellow members of Congress are in the drink.
As an adoring Jacob Weisberg put it on Slate, sniffling over McCain’s 2000 loss, “McCain challenged all that is hidebound, joyless and mind-numbing in American campaigns.”
McCain is allowed to dominate any and every issue on which he chooses to cross the aisle in Congress. He is omnipresent on Sunday talk shows.
Between 1997 and 2006, McCain had 135 appearances as a guest on “Meet the Press,” “This Week” and “Face the Nation,” far more than runner-up Joe Biden with 91. McCain usually was able to hold forth alone rather than sharing the stage.
The favorable press coverage has airbrushed McCain’s temper and remarks that would get any other politician in trouble.
It was, after all, McCain who referred to Leisure World as “Seizure World.” He once joked: “The nice thing about getting Alzheimer’s is you get to hide your own Easter eggs.”
At a 1999 meeting of GOP senators, McCain took after Sen. Pete Domenici, (R-N.M.), chairman of the Budget Committee, saying: “Only an [bleep] hole can put together a budget like this.” He has called Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa), “a [bleeping] jerk.”
After a near-death experience last year, McCain’s 2008 campaign has surged, propelled by his championing of President Bush’s troop “surge” strategy in Iraq.
It’s worth noting that McCain’s remarks at the outset of the war were on par with Vice President Dick Cheney’s “greeted as liberators” prediction. “We will win this conflict. We will win it easily,” McCain said in early 2003.
Much more will be written here about McCain’s record as voting senator and truth-teller.
Still, the national press corps’ “big feet” owe it to the country to put aside their pack mentality and subject McCain to the same critical scrutiny as other presidential hopefuls.
A year ago, on “Hardball,” Matthews asked about Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations: “What have you done to deserve this job?”
The program’s guest allowed that this was a “tough question” facing the full field of candidates.
“Not so much for McCain,” Matthews interrupted. “He has deserved the presidency. Whether he should be president or not, it’s up to the voters.”
It’s a different standard.
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