Media Blog

Kurtz on McCain

Key excerpts:

Seven years ago, as reporters rode around this first primary state on McCain’s campaign bus, chatting up the candidate for hours on end, a romance was born.
“Journalists go weak in the knees around the guy,” wrote Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, who admitted joining the swoon. “McCain is easier to get access to than a Hong Kong hooker,” a Time cover story announced. Ari Fleischer, the spokesman for candidate George W. Bush, complained that “John McCain is a media darling.”
But the relationship has turned decidedly chilly, with reporters denigrating the Republican’s chances and liberal columnists accusing him of selling out. McCain’s partisans say this is all about his unwavering support for the administration’s effort in Iraq.
“The press has decided to view McCain through the prism of a war they almost unanimously oppose,” says Mike Murphy, who was a key adviser in the 2000 campaign. “When McCain deviates from Republican orthodoxy, it’s brave. When McCain deviates from the elite media’s orthodoxy, they write that he’s not brave, which is unfair. There’s a bit of a negative bandwagon going on.”
[…]
On an hour-long bus ride to Concord, McCain declared it “a major tactical blunder” that there were limited seats for reporters, and when asked why no senator has won the White House in nearly half a century, he said: “Knowing most of the Senate, I can understand that.”
But he spent much of the time fielding serious questions on subjects from immigration to campaign finance reform. McCain declined invitations to grumble about his coverage, saying that for politicians to complain that “the media’s against me” is “kind of a convenient excuse. Ninety-nine percent of the press corps reports what they observe in as objective a manner as possible.”
[…]
Many conservative commentators remain wary of McCain, especially on such hot-button issues as immigration and his signature campaign-finance reform. But some have started to warm to the senator as he continues to champion Bush’s war.
In the right-leaning punditocracy, it is an article of faith that the skeptical mainstream coverage is rooted in ideology. National Review says “the press has been savage” toward McCain and has “dumped” him for “irreconcilable differences.” The Wall Street Journal editorial page points out “the chasm that distinguishes Mr. McCain from the Beltway media that used to adore him.” The headline on a Barnes piece says that “hell hath no fury” like jilted journalists. […]
While campaign reporters haven’t cut McCain many breaks, there may be a silver lining. “Having the press be mad at you will probably help with Republicans,” Barnes says. “They assume if the press is attacking you, you must be doing something right.”

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