By Lucas Roebuck
Sen. John McCain ran with the media as his ally in his quest to become president in 2000. The press loved his “Straight Talk Express” when he gave them unlimited access to his campaign. The love-in was so great that the senator jokingly referred to the media as his “ base ”
We all know how well playing to that base did for McCain in 2000, who was stomped by then Gov. George W. Bush in the GOP primary. In 2008, McCain has switched his base from the media to another, slightly larger group called “evangelicals,” the very same who mobilized and put Bush in the White House — twice.
Not only is McCain limiting press access to himself but also to his prize-fighter vice presidential choice, the politically exotic Sarah Palin. His flip-flop on the media has gone deeper than access: His campaign, led off by a salvo from Palin at the GOP convention, has launched a full-frontal assault on the credibility of the national media, accusing them of not just being in the tank for Sen. Barack Obama but also out of touch with average Americans.
“And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone,” Palin said. “But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion — I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country.”
McCain has run eviscerating ads (you can find them on YouTube.com ) mocking the presses “love affair” with Obama.
The effect of these attacks on the media, if unchallenged, mean that the news-consuming public will be more likely to assume that positive coverage of Obama is illegitimate — which will make voters less likely to pull the lever for Obama in November.
Conventional wisdom says that for the politician, insulting the press is akin to biting the hand that feeds you. In reality, McCain has the media right where he wants them. The media essentially can’t fight back because 1 ) the data support that they have been extremely biased in their reporting on Obama and b ) the public is savvy enough to already have picked up on this huge bias.
(For what it’s worth, I believe most of the media bias for Obama is an unintentional product of “Manhattan Myopia,” the tendency for national journalists to see the world only from a New York City perspective, as opposed to some sort of conspiracy. )
The narcissistic, self-absorbed media also can’t resist writing about itself. The media love being in their own spotlight, so we’ve seen a lot of hand wringing and self-doubt as the articles and pundits ask a question with an obvious answer: “Are we biased for Obama ?” Even though the media has half-heartedly defended itself against the McCain campaign’s accusations (and those of many conservative groups ) that the press is biased, the statistics published in the “mainstream” media as part of this handwringing are pretty damning.
As Time magazine reports, “ A review of 17, 455 print stories between July 7 and Aug. 17 by the news-clip warehouse LexisNexis found that Obama received 38 percent more coverage than McCain.” In the same article, Time admits, “So far this year, Obama has graced Time’s cover seven times, compared with three for McCain and one for his running mate, Sarah Palin. Newsweek has placed Obama-focused stories on the cover eight times in 2008, versus four for McCain.”
The criticism over the bias of MSNBC’s Chris “ Obamagives-me-a-thrill-up-my-leg ” Matthews and Keith Olbermann during the conventions was so intense that parent company NBC pulled the pair from anchoring the debates.
Other examples: Oprah welcoming Barack Obama on her show but not Republican Sarah Palin. The New York Times running an Obama-written column on the surge but rejecting McCain’s because it wasn’t like Obama’s opinion piece.
The public is siding with McCain over the media. A Rasmussen survey “ finds that 50 percent of voters think most reporters are trying to help Obama win versus 11 percent who believe they are trying to help his Republican opponent John McCain.... Seven out of 10 voters (69 percent ) remain convinced that reporters try to help the candidate they want to win, and this year by a nearly five-to-one margin voters believe they are trying to help Barack Obama. ”
McCain has the media in the position of a sports referee who was caught making a bad call. And even if McCain’s depiction of media bias is inaccurate (it isn’t), it doesn’t matter. The public believes it is so. So McCain can run against a liberal national media, guilting them (maybe fairly ) into giving him more fair coverage and undercutting the effects of their biased coverage of Obama — and making them second-guess anytime they want to say anything nice about Obama.
Overtly positive media support for Obama may have helped him with the Democratic primary, but it has backfired in the general election.
As McCain found out in 2000, who needs enemies when the media are your friends.