Thursday, May 22, 2008

Media darling McCain, the world's greatest living saint

Land O'Goshen! Joe Gorofoli in Liberals work to change McCain's image San Francisco Chronicle 05/22/08 goes off the press reservation in a Page 1 story to talk about how the Establishment media have pumped up John "100 Years War" McCain as a bold Maverick when he's actually a stodgy old conservative. (Okay, I'm interpreting just a tad.) The article's headline in the print edition is "Liberals, labor work to debunk McCain's image". Gorofoli reports:

A small knot of counterdemonstrators will greet Sen. John McCain when he arrives in Stockton today for a day of Northern California campaigning and fundraising. But the real anti-McCain action is happening in the media, where labor and liberal activists are starting to get the national press to do what the still-feuding Democratic candidates can't: Focus on the Republican nominee.
He talks about's new add targeting McCain advisor and lobbyist for dictators Charlie Black, labor's "McCain Revealed" campaign, and efforts by the Sierra Club and Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films site (from which Fdtate posted a video a few days ago, apparently the one referenced in Gorofoli's article).

What makes Gorofoli's article notably unusual is his explicitly reporting on at least some of the malfunctioning of our wrecked national media:

Outside groups like MoveOn, the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club - though unaffiliated with the presidential campaigns - are nonetheless doing the Democrats' dirty work, as the national media haven't been good multi-taskers when it comes to covering both the Democrats and McCain since he became the presumed GOP nominee.

The most recent weekly survey of campaign coverage by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that while presidential campaign stories dominated the news, only scant attention was dedicated to McCain. Since mid-March, fewer than 10 percent of the respondents to a weekly Pew Research poll say McCain "has been the most visible candidate in the news." ...
This latter finding is probably a mixed blessing for the Democrats. It bolsters the notion that the extended primary fight between Obama and Clinton has focused attention on the Democratic candidates, who after all don't have drastic policy differences between each other even in the eyes of most Democratic voters. But it also means that press darling McCain isn't getting nearly the critical scrutiny and reactionary Presidential candidate with an aggressive foreign policy deserves.

Some of McCain's own words have belied his reputation as a maverick. In his February appearance before the Conservative Political Action Conference - one of the most prominent gatherings of influential conservatives - McCain said, "My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative." He is a reliable anti-abortion vote and has staked much of his presidential campaign on his continuing support for the war in Iraq - a linchpin of the Bush administration.

Yet the media's shorthand for McCain persists, particularly among broadcast journalists. This month, CNN's Jack Cafferty noted McCain's "maverick appeal" on issues like immigration, but didn't add that McCain said earlier this year that he wouldn't vote for his original immigration proposal if it came to the floor of the Senate. (my emphasis)
Gorofoli even explains why the "maverick" tag is so reality-challenged in McCain's case: "It's hard to be a maverick when, like McCain, you've voted with your Republican colleagues 88 percent of the time during the current Congress."

There's an important caution in this, though. While Maverick McCain is a phony image constructed largely by his adoring press courtiers, that phony image has a reality of its own. Paul Bedard of US News Online (Clintonista Warns: McCain Isn’t Bush III) reports that Clinton advisor Sid Blumenthal went off the official campaign message recently on the fall strategy against McCain:

Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and strategist for Hillary Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign, went “off message” (his words) today with a warning to his party: Don't run against GOP nominee John McCain by painting him as Bush III, because he’s not. Bucking the Democratic National Committee’s talking points that characterize a potential McCain administration as tantamount to a third Bush term, Blumenthal told our Liz Halloran that running on that strategy in the fall would be a mistake. "I understand people's political reasons for doing that," he said. "I think it's more helpful to describe [political opponents] as they are." Bottom line, Blumenthal calls the strategy "a mistake and adds: "The public doesn’t see [McCain] that way. That’s a hard sell." ... Blumenthal also predicted that McCain has "lots of room to maneuver" politically before the fall election.
The Blumenthal quote is pretty fragmentary. But I'm guessing his point is that McCain has a strong media image that the Democrats have to challenge directly rather than relying primarily on linking him to Bush, although the latter is clearly helpful when obvious opportunities arise, like the Bush-McCain attack on Obama as an "appeaser" because he wants to negotiate with potential adversaries.

Gorofoli's article adds to that warning:

Gerald McEntee, chairman of the AFL-CIO's political committee and a Clinton supporter, acknowledged the Arizona Republican's charms. He told the New York Times political blog Wednesday that while Obama is having trouble reaching working-class voters, McCain "can reach these people."

(The AFL-CIO has not endorsed a candidate. Thirteen of its member unions have endorsed Clinton, nine have chosen Obama and 32 remain undecided, said spokesman Steve Smith.)

The key to stopping McCain, say union organizers, is changing his media image.

"Union voters are like everyone else - what they've heard about him is appealing. He's a war hero. He's a maverick. He's a straight shooter," said Steve Smith, an AFL-CIO spokesman. But the maverick and straight shooter tags are not accurate, say critics like Smith. (my emphasis)
This implies that the Democrats can't ignore the massive media dysfunction when it comes to reporting on their Herzi-Binki McCain. They need to make the media distortions about McCain's "maverickness" a campaign issue while challenging his image directly and, by doing so, force the media into covering McCain's dark sides.

I wonder if the press will accuse Gerald McEntee and Steve Smith of being "elitists". Probably. In the fairy-tale world of today's Republican Party, representatives of democratic unions are "elitists", while billionaires and their media flunkies are jus' down-home folks.

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