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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Media Hearts McCain

I brought it up yesterday, but there's a McClatchy headline that reads "McCain picks failing Ohio factory to laud free trade." I return to this story to demonstrate a problem -- you don't see these sort of headlines about McCain very often, but he does stuff like this all the time. McCain has a real bad habit of doing things that not only should he have no business doing, but things that no sane person would even consider doing. What should be massive media and PR gaffes are ignored, for the most part, by the media.

On April 22, John McCain was in Selma, Alabama. There, McCain praised the civil rights movement.

"Forty-three years ago, an army of more than 500 marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an army that brought with them no weapons, which intended no destruction, that sought to conquer no people or land," McCain said standing a few hundred yards away from bridge, bathed in the warm spring sunlight.

"They were people who believed in America, in the promise of America," he said. "And they believed in a better America. They were patriots, the best kind of patriots."

On March 7, 1965, the protesters, almost all of them black, had gathered to march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery.

They never made it across the bridge. At its crest, police and state troopers attacked them, unleashing a vicious assault on the demonstrators that was captured on film. When it was shown on television, it shocked the nation. March 7 would come to be known as Bloody Sunday.

Check out the photo to see how well that turned out. Selma's about 70% black, yet you're now snow-blind. Don't worry, it's like looking at a lightbulb, it'll go away eventually.

Of course, the problem is that McCain voted against the MLK jr. holiday -- in fact, he campaigned against it. This was something he had earlier apologized for at the very hotel where King was assassinated. On the anniversary of King's death. To a crowd who were less than enthusiastic. In fact, so unenthusiastic that McCain was booed. Yet, what would've been a media disaster for any other candidate was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media.

The media reaction was basically, "Well, how nice that he apologized." Never mind that the apology didn't seem to have been accepted.

And now, with all these bad campaign choices behind him -- and pretty thoroughly ignored -- McCain moves on to what in any sane world would be the next high profile media disaster; a visit to New Orleans today. The same New Orleans that big time endorser John Hagee said was wiped out by a hurricane because it didn't hate gays enough to please the Almighty. In fact, he's said it more than once. Most recently, tuesday. On talk radio nut Dennis Prager's program, Hagee had this to say:

PRAGER: Right, but in the case, did NPR get, is this quote correct though that in the case of New Orleans you do feel it was sin?

HAGEE: In the case of New Orleans, their plan to have that homosexual rally was sin. But it never happened. The rally never happened.

PRAGER: No, I understand.

HAGEE: It was scheduled that Monday.

PRAGER: No, I’m only trying to understand that in the case of New Orleans, you do feel that God’s hand was in it because of a sinful city?

HAGEE: That it was a city that was planning a sinful conduct, yes.

Anyone going to ask McCain about that today? Probably not. If they do, they won't press it. The networks are still playing clips of Jeremiah Wright -- long after polls showed that few people blame Obama for them -- but Hagee's bigotry goes unnoticed and uncommented on. In fact, the only ripples caused by the Hagee endorsement came from his anti-catholicism; his anti-gay bigotry is largely unknown. And the idea that a vengeful god would visit disaster -- not just on a city, but on an entire region -- over a rally in one place in one city is never questioned or even mentioned.

The thing is, that would really put McCain on the spot. One the one hand, he's been kissing up to the religious right for some time. On the other, Hagee's out of his mind -- just like all the other Jesus-happy homophobes -- and saying he was onboard with the death fantasies of John Hagee would hurt him with a large American demographic; i.e., sane people. He'd have to decide who he wanted to throw under the bus.

John McCain has the media in his back pocket. I'm not the first to say that. It goes back quite a long time. In 2000, PBS's NewsHour with Jim Leherer asked, "McCain: Media Darling?"

The answer they came up with was "yes." Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a Bush backer, said, "I said last week that the news ... the national news media were slobbering all over John McCain and that well known conservative correspondent Mary McGrory of the Washington Post said that absolutely it was true, that I was quite right, that the press has swooned for McCain. I've never seen anything like it..."

Even McCain campaign co-chair, former Senator Warren Rudman, agreed. "Of course it's true," he said. "They've not gone easy, but if you want to use the word slobber, I'll take slobber. But let me tell you why. You covered it in your opening. I've traveled on that bus. Several of the people here have traveled on that bus. It's remarkable -- unprecedented access -- not mealy-mouthed campaign bite answers. Ask a question, get an answer. But most of all, the press has watched him at 114 town meetings in New Hampshire answer every question and they've respected this guy and they like him."

Keep that phrase "unprecedented access" in mind -- the rest is BS. The good news for lefties is that George W. Bush found a way to beat McCain, despite the fact that the media were cutting him slack left and right. The bad news is that they had to pull some really lousy crap to do it.

In their book, Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, Media Matters founders David Brock and Paul Waldman pretty much explain it all:

Quote courtesy of Pam Spaulding:

[T]he Straight Talk Express had a jovial, locker-room atmosphere, complete with free-flowing booze and plenty of swearing on the candidate's part. "After a day or two of this sort of thing," [Tucker] Carlson wrote, "the average journalist inevitably concluded that John McCain was about the coolest guy who ever ran for president...I saw reporters call McCain 'John,' sometimes even to his face and in public. I heard others, usually at night in the hotel bar, slip into the habit of referring to the McCain campaign as 'we' -- as in, "I hope we kill Bush." It was wrong but hard to resist."

That's what the "unprecedented access" got him -- an extremely friendly media. I've been on kind of a tear about the media lately and this is just one more example of how they've dropped the ball. You can't really blame McCain for doing this, especially when it works so well. He can almost literally get away with anything -- right there in front of the press corps and the cameras -- so why on Earth would he operate any other way?

No, once again, the problem is the media. In fact, the problem is in not recognizing that there is a problem. Like the "embedded journalist" during the invasion of Iraq, reporters following McCain are falling into a "band of brothers" mindset and aren't being rotated out before they lose perspective. But the access makes it hard for media outlets to resist.

So McCain in New Orleans, a city so hated by God that the entire gulf coast had to pay for it, will be another PR disaster avoided. No one will press McCain on Hagee. They'll just meet at McCain's campaign bus -- the "Straight Talk Express" -- afterwards for drinks and ribs.

When it comes to John McCain, we don't actually have any journalists. We have McCain boosters who'll ignore "foibles" because he's just such a darned fun fella to cover.


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