Media Turns On McCain

[ Posted Tuesday, September 16th, 2008 – 16:40 UTC ]

The past week may have been a crucial turning point for the presidential hopes of John McCain. Because finally -- finally! -- the mainstream media (including some very right-wing sources) have realized that it is not "McCain 2000" who is running this year, but "McCain 2008" -- a whole different breed of cat. This may have been McCain's biggest hidden asset, but ever since he hired the Karl Rove-trained campaign staff he's got now, he has carelessly tossed this potent secret weapon aside.

Now, I will fully admit up front that the jury is still out on all of this. McCain may win. His tactics may be politically brilliant. But somehow, I don't think this is going to be the case.

Back in June, I wrote the following, in a column which got widespread attention (and some widespread disparagement as well):

Anyone who thinks that the treatment Barack Obama has gotten from the media during this campaign is remotely the same as the treatment John McCain has received just has not been paying much attention. Because this pro-McCain prejudice has been both pervasive and unremarked-upon throughout almost the entire news media during the entire campaign season. McCain has even joked that the media is "his base" of support. It was a funny line, but there is an enormous truth at its core: the media has been hard on Obama but unbelievably light on John McCain. And this has to stop. Now. Because the election might just hinge on the media's portrayal of the two, so now is the time to point out the uneven nature of the press coverage to date on the two candidates. In time for the mainstream media to correct itself before the general election season really heats up.

Think about what you know or learned (through the mainstream media's coverage of this year's election) about Barack Obama. You may have heard of: his birth, his parents, where his parents lived, what nationality and race his parents are, where his grandmother lives, what race she is, where he went to elementary school, what Chicago radicals were doing while he was in elementary school half a planet away, where he went to college, what he did while in college, what he did after college, how he paid off his student loan, his career as a politician, which way he voted on things in the Illinois statehouse, what church he joined, what his preacher said back then, where he was married, where his kids were baptized, what his preacher said recently, what a visiting preacher said at his church even more recently, his stance on the war, his stance on race, his stance on Hillary Clinton, his stance on just about everything else, and the fact that he's a terrible bowler (but a pretty decent basketball player).

Now, what has the media informed us about John McCain this campaign season? His stance on the war. His stance on a gas-tax holiday. His stance on talking to foreign leaders. His stance on Iran (bomb it). How he's not like George Bush, dammit... even though the two agree on just about every policy you can name.

That's it.

. . .

Facts about John McCain's private life? Nothing. McCain's military history? Nothing (other than the P.O.W. ads McCain himself runs). McCain's legislative history? Nothing, other than to repeat stories seemingly written in 2000 about what a "maverick" he is. Any scandals in McCain's past? Crickets chirping.

Then, at the beginning of August, I followed up on the subject in another Friday Talking Points article:

I have to say, I am slowly seeing signs of the media turning on John McCain. Now, so far, it's a fairly subtle thing -- they haven't started asking him any really tough questions on his policy, his history, or his record, for instance. But they have noticed the change in tone since the Karl Rove people have taken over McCain's campaign strategy. And it's turning them off. They are like Rip Van Winkle waking up from a years-long nap, blinking sleepily and confusedly while wondering "Who is this new John McCain? Where's the straight talker I went to sleep dreaming about?"

It's going to take more time before the media truly begins to examine McCain in a critical way, but at this point I am cautiously optimistic that we may have reached a turning point. The more silly mudslinging ads McCain runs, the more we may see evidence of this happening. We'll see whether the media collectively goes to sleep again, or whether they truly wake up in the weeks ahead.

I am happy to say that the media has now officially woken up. The combination of McCain's people all but shutting the media out, together with the ads they've been running in the meantime have finally forced all but the most partisan commentators to realize what Democrats have been saying for months: this isn't the same John McCain who ran in 2000.

John McCain hasn't held a press conference in over a month. He has been doing some interviews recently, but he got eviscerated by what was supposed to be a softball morning chat on The View, so he may be rethinking even this strategy. His "town halls" are now reportedly pre-screened, in the hopes of nobody asking too hard a question. Even with this type of hand-picked crowd, he recently cut off someone asking a question he didn't like.

And then, of course, there's Sarah Palin. Who is apparently such a shrinking violet that she can't stand up for herself to the tame American media (much less world leaders).

Ever since the reporters have been (quite literally) kicked off the "Straight Talk Express" bus, the coverage of McCain has gotten sharper. And his refusal to admit that his ads are lying has destroyed whatever benefit of the doubt reporters had left for McCain and his campaign.

It didn't have to be this way. McCain could have skated on the goodwill the reporters were throwing his way all the way through Election Day. He could have used press accessibility as a shield against reporters pouncing on his frequent gaffes and misstatements, due to the reservoir of "Oh, John didn't really mean that, there's no need to make a big deal out of it" feelings the media had for him.


The media had already written the script they were going to follow for McCain's entire campaign: "McCain is a war hero, therefore cannot be questioned on many things. McCain is a maverick, who stands for truth and straight talk." That was the media narrative, and up until the Karl Rove folks got on board, that is all the media had to say about McCain.

But now, even the mainstream media -- and even many on the right of the spectrum -- have had the scales fall from their eyes. First it was the ads. Relentless and misleading ads. Then outright lying ads. Reporters finally awoke, as they would after a bad date and a bad hangover, and realized their storyline was no longer operative. McCain was not giving anyone any "straight talk" anymore. "Truth" was obviously expendable in his quest for the White House. His very honor itself began to wear thin.

The final nail in the coffin was when, last week, Karl Rove himself said McCain's ads had gone "too far," and were not telling the truth. Think about that for a minute -- Karl Rove said McCain had gone too far. Plenty of other media types were saying the same thing, too. has a sampling of them, if you've been in a coma for the past week or something. And that's just a sampling -- there are many, many other examples out there of the phenomenon of the press finally realizing it has not being doing its job vetting John McCain.

All I can say is, it's about time.


-- Chris Weigant


2 Comments on “Media Turns On McCain”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    Have the blinkers finally come off the press? I hope so. All I ask is that the media report the facts and then let the voters decide. I am well aware that many voters will keep their own blinkers on and vote for McCain anyway but since this is a democracy that is okay with me. I just want them [the voters] to know what they are doing and not to whine about it later when the economy (and the country) goes to hell in a hand basket if McCain wins.

  2. [2] 
    BLaws wrote:

    Granted, I don't trust any polls this year as being accurate. While I don't feel the actual numbers are correct I do feel Gallup is at least "accurate" in it's trending. The number for either one is probably wrong, but the movement I feel is at least close. Gallup Daily now has Obama ahead, with McCain losing ground over the week and Obama gaining.

    I have to agree with CW. The media now seems to be more forceful in it's pushback to McCain's lies. If he continues even a bit further I feel it's going to be a full blown narrative he won't shake the rest of the campaign. I also think that Palin is going to be like a real sugar high to many, the buzz was huge but the crash after is going to leave a lot disappointed. The more that comes out about her the harder it will be for any but the far extreme right to stay in their fervorent support of her.

    The media is already focusing less and less on her and more on McCain, which will just bring people's attention back to McCain... who many Republicans detest.

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