I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Kill Her

Ben Smith analyzes the blowback from John McCain's new-ish, two-pronged strategy of negative (embellished) attacks on Obama and media-bashing.

McCain has long been the New York Times's favorite Republican -- the paper endorsed him in the primary, as its spokeswoman noted when he last complained -- and this represents a real shift in his political career, and a situation he hasn't really faced before: Straightforward opprobium from a media elite whom he'd considered friendly.

His campaign has clearly done the math and decided it's worth the cost, which is now being exacted in the form of a hardening media perception that he's re-running the last two Bush campaigns.

Robert Stacy McCain (no relation) has data on the effects: according to Gallup, a net 24 percent of voters think the media is "unfairly positive" in its coverage of Obama, and a net 20 percent think they're "unfairly negative" covering McCain.

Has McCain run the sloppiest Republican campaign since Dole '96? Sure; I don't think you can look at how he wasted his four-month honeymoon during the Clinton-Obama fight and conclude otherwise. But convincing voters that the media is unfair to him is the most impressive trick McCain has pulled. This is a campaign that, seven months ago, was rebroadcasting Tim Russert's description of McCain's heroism in its TV ads.


I don't think McCain's comeback would have been possible had the political press not been scoring points for him all throughout 2007. His comeback was willed into existence by reporters; you could find helpful analyses of what he could do to win as early as July last year. It's part of what makes the Obama-McCain battle a fair fight, not a hopelessly lopsided fight: Both men are beloved by the press in a way no one's been since, arguably, Carter in 1976. Seriously, look at the way the ridiculous Wesley Clark story was covered this month and try to argue that the media's being unfair to McCain.

Josh Benson and Felix Gillette talk to some of those devious media conspirators here. Joe Scarborough:

The great irony of it coming from the McCain camp is that no candidate in modern American politics got more favorable treatment from the press than John McCain in 2000. I would suggest he received more positive press in 2000 than his nearest competitor, Barack Obama, in 2008. For McCain to now cry foul because the media is intrigued by a new exciting candidate is humorous.

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  • ||

    Has McCain run the sloppiest Republican campaign since Dole '96? Sure; I don't think you can look at how he wasted his four-month honeymoon during the Clinton-Obama fight and conclude otherwise

    I agree that McCain has run an awful campaign, but I don't think this is the best example.

    He didn't spend those four months on the beach; he spent them shoring up his battered relationship with the Republican right, without whom he would have no chance of winning.

  • ||

    Nice piece Dave, but I'm not sure I can buy into it.

    What I really need in order to decide this issue is some stories in the media about the media covering media coverage of the candidates. That way I'll know who's really getting sweetheart coverage.

  • Colin||

    Campaigns should be judged in November, not July.

  • ||

    But convincing voters that the media is unfair to him is the most impressive trick McCain has pulled.

    20% of them, Dave. That's less than Bush's approval rating, for heaven's sake, and you can be certain the former is a subset of the latter.

    I would predict that McCain's strategy of whining about the media is going to backfire by damaging the tough-as-nails aura he's worked so hard to cultivate, but I'm continually surprised at the stupidity of the electorate.

  • ||

    O.t,

    Those are net numbers. It isn't 20% of the public, it's 20% more than believe that he is being treated unfairly.

  • ||

    "Campaigns should be judged in November, not July."

    Campaigns should be judged from the time they begin until the time they end.

  • ||

    joe,

    OK, I see. That's kind of a weird measurement, because it ignores the larger percentage of people who think the media's being fair. But it's still only 32% who think he's being treated unfairly, and as we all know any GOP talking point can automatically gain about 30% support in the polls no matter how absurd.

  • Kos Kid||

    Great diary! +1!!!

  • Abdul||

    Getting on the right flank's good side and accusing the media of bias is the two-part strategy, and it's been somewhat successful. Many hardcore republicans only rallied to McCain's nomination when the NYT ran an article suggesting he had an affair with a lobbyist.

    "If the New York Times is smearing McCain, he can't be that bad."

  • ||

    and as we all know any GOP talking point can automatically gain about 30% support in the polls no matter how absurd.

    And they could run a chupacabra for president and still have a lock on 30 states. Unless, of course, the public demanded an end to outsourcing American imaginary monster jobs to foreign competitors.

    I don't think much of the media rim-job Obama's getting, but McCain whining about be treated unfairly by the press is just him boo-hooing enough to be heard in the cheap seats. I bet negative stories about him have an exact correlative curve with incidents of him sucking up to the hard-right No-Nothings.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Seems to me that McCain is whining his way into mediocrity and a loss in November.

  • ||

    SugarFree,

    I was going to ask to see ElChupacabra's birth certificate to verify it was really NativeBorn, but you anticipated my concerns.

  • ||

    Chupacheck the Chupakerning.

  • ||

    I don't watch much cable news or anything, but has McCain's whining resulted in the MSM trying to overcompensate by showering McCain with praise in an effort to look "balanced"?

  • Warty||

    Headline explained here.

  • Sam Grove||

    McCain: loser in the making.

  • ||

    McCain: loser in the making.

    No way. We're getting the crazy old codger for President, I promise.

  • ||

    Well, duh, of course McCain got lots of positive press treatment back when he was a thorn in the side of conservatives, or when he was seen as the more centrist of Republican nominees in 2000. And of course his "beloved of the press" status has changed now that he's running against a liberal Democrat. It's not ironic, it's just the way the mainstream media works.

  • TallDave||

    She bitched so much, she drove me nuts, and now we're happier this way.

    But convincing voters that the media is unfair to him is the most impressive trick McCain has pulled.

    Honestly, Weigel, I try to like you in spite of your lefty tendencies but this is just retarded. Did you not see the press coverage of Obama's trip? The standing ovation yesterday? How can any sane person believe that a press that gives 20:1 to Obama can possibly be objective and fair?

    I'm from IL, and we hear 10x more about Rezko in regards to Gov. Blago than the Presidential candidate, despite the fact Rezko was Obama's neighbor and appears to have engaged in an unethical and probably illegal landsharing deal with Obama. In what world does this make sense?

    They mention Rezko once or twice and that somehow proves parity? Huh? They published that crap about McCain's "relationship" even as they embargo Edwards getting caught visiting his mistress and apparent love child at 4AM.

  • ||

    Has McCain run the sloppiest Republican campaign since Dole '96? Sure; I don't think you can look at how he wasted his four-month honeymoon during the Clinton-Obama fight and conclude otherwise

    Really? Because I recall Obama spending time recently on a taxpayer-financed junket to places where no American voters (other than the troops he visited in Iraq) reside, while McCain was doing the unglamorous job of visiting actual voters in swing states like Pennsylvania -- and getting derided by Stewart / Colbert for doing so.

  • John McCain||

    Having secured Eric Dondero's endorsement, my victory is assured, my friends.

  • ||

    What does it mean that the Republicans keep putting out contradictory spin?

    Obama keeps changing his position on Iraq while stubbornly refusing to change his position on Iraq.

    Obama is one of those elitist inner city black guys.

    Barack Obama is getting completely unfair levels of press and adulation over a trip that was a strategic blunder to ever make.

    I think it means they're screwed.

  • ||

    Barack Obama is getting completely unfair levels of press and adulation over a trip that was a strategic blunder to ever make.

    So, if Obama repeated this trip during the week before election day while McCain stumped in Ohio and Missouri and Colorado and all the other swing states -- still really a fantastic idea?

    You win presidential elections by talking to and shaking hands with actual voters in the ten states or so that are in play in a close election.

    Showboating versus doing the necessary grunt work.

    Hare v. tortoise

  • ||

    So, if Obama repeated this trip during the week before election day while McCain stumped in Ohio and Missouri and Colorado and all the other swing states -- still really a fantastic idea?

    No, that would be a bad idea. Thing is, that's not when he made the trip.

  • ||

    For McCain to now cry foul because the media is intrigued by a new exciting candidate is humorous.

    Wow...this is hugely idiotic.

    How about someone who is not McCain having a problem with Media bias for any candidate?

    Seriously, look at the way the ridiculous Wesley Clark story was covered this month and try to argue that the media's being unfair to McCain.

    Easy...David Weigel has consistently written more negative articles about McCain then he has about Obama.

    Not only can I argue that but I win the argument all in one sentence.

    Plus there is the fact that "the media's" love affair for McCain in 2000 was during a primary. The bias that Weigel alludes to is prefaced by the fact that it was only in relation to other republican candidates. Not by a preference of McCain over Gore.

  • ||

    Why is McCain considered a hero? Seriously. He graduated at the bottom of his Annapolis class, then proceeded to crash 5 planes because he was a horrible flyer (according to military sources). The last plane he crashed was in the enemy's backyard so he became a POW and spent most of the war in captivity. What's heroic about that,and how does that give him experience of any kind? McCain is a nasty, bitter old man who doesn't know where he stands on issues or what he voted for/against in the past.

  • Mr anonymous||

    Your talking points betray you Phx"Republican." We know all soldiers either commit atrocities or are too helpless and stupid to fight properly and it's all a capitalist conspiracy by Milton Friedman, but let's leave the talking points and stick to the topic at hand.

    The press love for McCain was always kind of revolting, but I don't think it's gone anywhere (I think he'd still enjoy it against Clinton).

    As of now that love is just buried under all the journalist Barajackulation, which certainly exceeds anything I've seen other than when I was visiting my friend in Togliatti a few year back. That we have a free press just makes this all the more shameful and weird.

    Which brings me to people like Weigel and Andrew Sullivan. I can clearly see why either of them wouldn't like McCain, but why the Hell would they back Obama (Sullivan admits it and it's getting pretty obvious with Weigel)? At least Matt Welch's anti-McCain obsession (with his always-impeccable arguments for its justification) is counterbalanced with a healthy, if not equal, dose of pure, unadulterated My-God-this-guy-who's-not-McCain-really-really-just-sucks-and-sucks-and-sucks-brand earnesty.

    Are the enthusiasms of Weigel because Obama will legalize gay marriage? BO says he won't. Is it because Obama will legalize drugs? He says he won't. Is it because Obama will spend less than McCain? He says he won't and I guarantee both that Congress won't go with the plan even if he tried, and that Obama won't go against Congress. Is it because Obama will tax less? He won't. Is it because Obama's more federalist? McCain's not very federalist, but he's more federalist than his opponent, which is worse for us than either of them. Is it because Obama's better on foreign policy? Seeing how he's made rhetorical gestures toward invading a place utterly lacks a coherent case for invasion (in Darfur), I actually think BO's worse than McCain, whose own nigh-unmakeable, quasi-incoherent case for bombing Iran qualifies him as terrible. So, it follows that Obama's worse than terrible on FP.

    So, again we've got a contest between a Turd Sandwich (McCain) and a Giant Douche (Obama).

    At least Turd Sandwich will have a somewhat obstructionist Congress and, himself, serve to obstruct Congress. That's one positive. Another is that McCain will appoint judges that won't be inclined to reverse Heller, which passed 5-4. Still another is that he's threatening to veto all farm subsidies and endeavor to end the federal government's ethanol fraud with the stroke of his red pen (though, unfortunately, I think those things pass with veto proof majorities, no?). That's two and a half pretty good reasons to buy a Turd Sandwich.

    While Giant Douche seems like a thoughtful and honest guy by the low standards of politicians, the only positive I can think of for him is that his very existence vindicates libertarian arguments against affirmative action. Voting for a guy based on that is as dumb as voting for McCain because he was a POW. Issue-wise, Giant Douche is too far to the right on everything I don't like about Republicans and too far to the left on everything I do.

    I'm not saying Sullivan and Weigel aren't perfectly capable of deciding for themselves; just that I can't see one damned issue-based reason for a libertarian or small-government-type to support the guy they're supporting. I really wish one of them could at least endeavor to make a rational case--and one not based on the idea that he's lying about everything.

    Sullivan's I-hate-everyone-over-fifty argument was compelling, but only on an emotional level and didn't make as much sense as he probably thinks it did. It was 100% emotion, 0% logic.

    I want to see the case for voting Obama spelled out in logic.

    If one of them makes it, who knows, maybe they perseude me.

  • ||

    Because I recall Obama spending time recently on a taxpayer-financed junket to places where no American voters (other than the troops he visited in Iraq) reside, while McCain was doing the unglamorous job of visiting actual voters in swing states like Pennsylvania -- and getting derided by Stewart / Colbert for doing so.

    Apparently this commenter missed McCain's trip to Iraq and Israel, the one where Lieberman had to correct him by whispering in his ear. He also stopped in London on that trip. He probably would have given a speech in Germany, but a McCain speech wouldn't draw flies in Arizona.

    McCain's earlier stroll around a Baghdad market, accompanied by helicopters overhead and something like a platoon of U.S. soldiers, was unforgettable.

    Of course he campaigned in Mexico and Colombia as well. Why? Who the hell knows?

    I know if I ever get the opportunity to take a paid "junket", I'm heading straight to Iraq.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic||

    Easy...David Weigel has consistently written more negative articles about McCain then he has about Obama.

    Maybe McCain's simply a worse candidate than Obama.

    You're trying to prove bias by burdening Weigel with a "fairness doctrine" that simply doesn't apply. When a candidate is as big a disaster as McCain, constantly changing his story on virtually every issue of the day, I think the media who portray him negatively are just doing their jobs. If Weigel gets it, that only improves my impression of how well Weigel does his job.

  • ||

    "I want to see the case for voting Obama spelled out in logic."

    Mr. Anonymous - to answer your question. In D.C. you get invited to parties with the cool kids if you profess Obama love. (I'm only semi-kidding)

    P.S. - good post.

  • ||

    To answer your "worst campaign?" query, I refer you to the latest memo from Rick Davis. Turns out that not only is Obama hideously popular, he compounds the offense by working out, eating (actually, demanding) protein bars, and drinking Honest Tea. I think they forgot the part about the orange juice, but that's old news.

  • slag||

    Obama's definitely getting more coverage. But it's more bad coverage according to the latest media research study: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-onthemedia27-2008jul27,0,2066363,full.story. Given how bad McCain's campaign has been run, you'd think he'd be getting more negative coverage than Obama. Not so. Just the opposite, in fact.

    We are truly down the rabbit hole here.

  • ||

    Mr. Anonymous: Good points. I've wondered about Weigel's inexplicable man-crush on Obama as well.

    To add a few more: Obama's support for a global war on poverty. His support for ending secret ballot unionization elections. His bizarre "civilian national security force," the one that's going to be just as powerful and well-funded as the military. His support for "comparable worth" legislation. The fact that he (like nearly all Democrats) are in the pockets of the unions and the trial lawyers. The fact that Democrats are talking about bringing back the fairness doctrine. Etc.

    McCain's no libertarian dream, but he's leagues ahead of Obama on nearly every score that should matter to libertarians.

  • Mr Anonymous||

    I agree with all of that, PapayaSF, and feel shame that I left out Obama's support for "comparable worth" legislation, which, itself, might be enough to get me to vote for the other guy even if Obama wasn't so bad on every other topic of interest.

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