McCain Versus The Centipede

A couple of years ago, while I was still a restless member of the "mainstream media," (MSM) I sat down with an admiral friend of mine in his Pentagon office where we talked about the dismal state of the American news media. I was preparing to leave CNN after 17 years, and I must have complained that news organizations too often behaved like a pack of wolves in the way they gang up on their targets. My unoriginal observation wasn’t memorable. But the admiral’s response sure was.

He rejected the notion of "pack journalism." No, he argued, wolves are far too independent. The press is more like a centipede, he said, with the New York Times as its head, and all others marching in lock-step as if they have no independent thought and no other option. His description has stuck with me because it hais probably
proved to be the most accurate encapsulation of the way the MSM behaves.

When the centipede turns against you, there is very usually no countervailing force that can save you, no matter how much money is in your campaign warchest. That may be the fate of Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.

The news coverage of Senator John McCain proves the point. Where once there was a relatively warm glow, the temperature is dropping fast. The centipede its turning.

While the good senator has for some time been viewed by the MSM as the conservative they are most willing to tolerate, (some claim to even like him personally) they have now begun to turn from relatively benign hangers-on to tomahawk slinging partisans out to nail another scalp to their laptops.

The language and tone of the articles and television reports are shifting noticeably from the semi-friendly stories about his bus, called the "Straight Talk Express," and the senator who is "telling it like it is," — to stories about his advanced age, history of cancer, a new spot on his head, personal problems and his "flip-flops."

His recent walk through a Baghdad market lead the media to mock and ridicule him in hitherto unheard tones that are reserved for successful — or possibly successful — Republicans. Where the facts or the politics won’t work against him, they opt to write about embarrassing moments on the campaign trail.

Media writer Howard Kurtz wrote a piece in the Washington Post (Thursday, April 26th p.C1) with the headline, "Journalists and John McCain: Is The Honeymoon Really Over."
Kurtz describes the media’s frenzied cluster-fest in New Hampshire following McCain’s official announcement of his decision to run for the presidency.

"The shouted questions began:," Kurtz wrote, "Senator, how can you support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and yet distance yourself from the Bush administration?"

"There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm about your candidacy — "

"Your candidacy is so closely associated with the war — "

"The Arizonan’s mouth was moving," said Kurtz, "but that was the only evidence that he was speaking, as the bus’s idling engine drowned out his low-decibel voice."

As if that weren’t bad enough, Kurtz pointed out that, "Dan Rather, Maureen Dowd, Candy Crowley, three New York Times correspondents, three Washington Post reporters, two Politico scribes and dozens of other chroniclers could not hear a word he was saying."

You know that you’re in trouble when…

"The chaotic scene," Kurtz continued, "minutes after McCain formally launched his candidacy here Wednesday, amounted to a comical metaphor for a candidate struggling to break through a cacophonous media filter."

In short, McCain is no longer the media’s favorite Republican or their pick for the GOP nomination. And that means trouble.

McCain problems with the media has many roots. First, he continues to refuse to drop his support for President Bush’s approach to the war in Iraq. This is confusing to many in the press, who are entirely invested in the notion that the White House’s approach has already failed. This conclusion was of course reaffirmed for them by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s recent declaration that the war is already "lost." Reid’s treacherous, politically-driven bouquet to the enemies of civilization was naturally met with comfortable approval in the press. To the media, that discussion has been had and the results are in. Like the "debate" over global warming. Done. Over. If you are on the wrong side of it, then you are determined by them to be an idiot.

There is also the important fact that success in Iraq would be almost as tragic for the current gaggle of democratic leaders as failure would be for the Iraqi people.

It is worth noting that in recent months, Senator Joseph Lieberman has been rendered virtually invisible by the MSM. Once loved, he has been banished almost entirely as a result of his correct stand on the war in Iraq.

Even Hillary Clinton has been abandoned by many in the MSM – and her party – because of her relatively firm stance on the war.

The media has instead opted to carry Barak Obama around on their shoulders as if the freshman senator had just scored the winning touchdown in the big game. He will continue to enjoy the unconditional adoration of the MSM as long as he bangs the drums of cut-and-run — and doesn’t screw up too much.

McCain also continues to support making permanent the president’s tax cuts, (cuts he voted against) and champions other conservative views that the media had no doubt hoped he would eventually abandon.

But McCain’s steadfastness on these and other key issues is not the only thing that has the media centipede turning against him. Another major factor is the fact that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is now in the race.

While many of the New York-based members of the MSM hold Giuliani in contempt – primarily for being the Republican that cleaned up their once dark city – they can in good conscience promote him as the leader in the GOP race because of his relatively liberal views on a number of social issues. Giuliani, after all, has long been
anti-gun, pro-"choice," and in favor of expanding "gay rights."  Now, that’s the kind of republican that reporters can back.

As the media’s coverage of the Republican field evolves in favor of Giuliani, the poll numbers are also moving Rudy’s way. And just as surely as it is turning to devour McCain, Rudy will be next if — that is — he retains his front-runner status for long. Now, to be sure, a part of this is occurring naturally, but the influence of the media’s shading of coverage is — and will continue to be — an enormous influence on the polls and on the prospects of any potential contender. The media’s influence in the political selection process is second only to the impact that the candidates themselves have.

As the winds of change turn against McCain, the media will blame him for failing to do whatever it is that they determine it is that he should be doing. They will explain to the electorate that "X" explains his declining poll numbers, and they will agree among themselves that they had nothing to do with it.

The darlings of the media elite will once again enjoy an advantage that is essentially immeasurable. The media will deny their actual role. But in reading the tea leaves, look for Giuliani’s prospects to rise, while McCains’s drop. Look for Obama’s fortunes to be on the rise and for Hillary Clinton’s to decline.

Can a conservative republican win the presidency in this media environment? I believe so. It has happened several times in the past, even in similar media environments. But the bar is set higher because the messenger between the candidates and the voter is on the dole and speaks for one side, at the expense of the other. Added degree of difficulty.