McCain at War with the New York Times

Sen. John McCain’s campaign promised to “go to war” with the New York Times according to a report in the Politico released the morning after the McCain-Iseman story was released, alleging the presidential contender’s involvement with the attractive lobbyist. 

But will McCain counter attack? He should, and not just because he’s been attacked. The Thursday evening story was just another in a long string of timing plays, contrived stories and political activism pretending to be journalism. Every election in living memory has been punctuated by dirty tricks the media played a willing role, stories entirely contrived and those timed to damage a Republican. Remember, only about two months ago, when the media were taken in wholesale with a false story released on the day of the Iowa caucuses that said Fred Thompson would drop out after Iowa and endorse McCain? It almost certainly held down voter turnout for Thompson. Remember, about five days before the 2004 election, about the Iraq explosives dump supposedly abandoned to insurgents, the story aimed at President Bush to prove him incompetent? These stories are timed to damage Republican candidates and oftentimes they work. 

This shot at McCain one was timed to do two things. First, it was delayed in publication to let McCain secure the Republican nomination, and then when his principal opponents were defeated, released to weaken him.

As reported December 20, 2007 on the Drudge Report, “McCain has personally pleaded with NY Times editor Bill Keller not to publish the high-impact report…the drama involves a woman lobbyist who may have helped write key telecom legislation.” Yesterday, Keller — in a statement released to trade magazine “Editor and Publisher” — denied that the Times held the story for political reasons.

Keller’s statement said, “On the timing, our policy is, we publish stories when they are ready.” Keller’s credibility on that point is zero. Under his editorship, the Times held the publication of the top-secret NSA terrorist surveillance program for an entire year while its reporter James Risen wrote a book about it. The Times published its story on the NSA program the day the book was released. The Times is all about timing for political impact.

Second, though the Times could have held this story for more days, weeks or months, the other apparent reason it was released now is that the Times wanted to take the heat off Michelle Obama for her bizarre comment that she was for the first time proud of her country. That worked like a charm. From the moment the Times put the McCain-Iseman story up on its website Wednesday night at about 7:45 pm EST, there’s been almost nothing else on the air or the web.

Will Sen. McCain go to war with the Times? Probably not. They endorsed him earlier this year and his consultants — like almost every other Republican campaign consultant who’s been hired since Marconi invented the wireless — will argue, shout and pout to prevent any attack on any media. Which will leave McCain entirely on the defensive, and the “October surprises” will come in a steady stream between now and the November election. 

But what if he did? What should the war plan look like? 

Forget threats to sue, harsh criticism or anything like that. If you’re going to war with the media, Sen. McCain — and you must — do it smart. Start with the Will Rogers rule: you can do much more political damage to someone by making a good joke stick to them than you can by calling them names. Add the Rush Limbaugh corollary: humor is most effective against liberals because they are so pompous and humorless they are almost physically unable to respond in kind. 

That tactic will feed a huge hunger among the American people. We know that there’s comprehensive liberal bias in the press and that they never give a Republican — far less a conservative — an even break. We yearn for someone to stand up to the hyperliberals in the media and call them what they are. The candidate who does that would benefit from a huge surge of support leading up to November 4. 

Sen. McCain tell his campaign managers, the Republican National Committee and any sympathetic group to hire some of the best humorists in the nation to write a series of television commercials that poke fun at the press. Start with the New York Times newsroom. Bill Keller? He’s supposedly in control, but ol’ Bobblehead Bill does what he’s told by publisher Pinch Sulzberger, Managing Editor Jill Abramson and the Times’ anti-testosterone columnist, Maureen Dowd. 

Keller, according to one Fox News report, fought against publishing the McCain-Iseman story. Who overruled the Bobblehead this time? 

If McCain decides to attack, he need to hire the best generals to run the war. He should hire Mel Brooks or novelist Christopher Buckley (or both). Tell them to start with the truth: that the New York Times newsroom isn’t a business run by adults. It’s a dysfunctional liberal family of the kind rarely found outside of Hollywood. They can write a 60-second spot on that and show it in Washington, New York and all across the fruited plain. It would not only help McCain, it would drive the Times folk totally bonkers. Hey, if Pinch ends up in a rehab program at the Betty Ford Clinic, would that be bad?
Actually, that could script a follow-on commercial.

And while the humor team is at it, why not have them film a funny spot about Katie Couric and Brian Williams? Hire Ben Stein to play a history prof. He could quiz the newsreaders about Williams’ comment to Andrea Mitchell a year or two ago when he agreed with her that the Founding Fathers were probably “terrorists” in the eyes of the British. Ben could hold up two pictures, one of George Washington and one of Usama bin Laden, asking who’s the terrorist and getting the wrong answer.

And, for the R-rated evening audience, I’m sure Mel and Christopher could do a lot with Chris Matthews’ comment that he feels a tingle run up his leg when Obama speaks. Actually, I shudder to think what they could do with that. And finally — for the CNBC-Fox Business Channel audiences — how about a Vice President Cheney-like character tut-tutting about how the NYT stock price has sunk in direct proportion to the increase in its liberal activism? And contrasting it with the stock performance of a company that actually makes money? Say, Haliburton?

Run a series of commercials through the summer and all the way up to Election Day. Poke fun at media liberal bias. Those commercials would be hotter than ads for “Desperate Housewives.” 

And they’d work. The real secret of the media is that they’re bullies. They’ll retreat, whine, sob and maybe — just maybe — fewer contrived stories and timed hit pieces will bedevil McCain’s campaign. What does Mr. McCain have to lose? Nothing. And there’s everything to gain.