Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Friends of John McCain

On the evening of August 1, 2000, Arizona Senator John McCain was in New York for the Republican National Convention. After delivering a televised speech endorsing the presidential nomination of his former rival, George W. Bush, Mr. McCain adjourned to the city’s landmark Tavern-on-the-Green restaurant, for an early birthday party.

While Senator McCain was actually born on 29 August, the New York event gave him a chance to celebrate with some of his closest friends—from the MSM. The list of attendees reportedly included a number of luminaries from the broadcast and cable networks, as well as various print outlets. By some accounts, the media types outnumbered Republican politicians and party officials at the McCain bash.

But the heavy media presence was hardly a surprise. McCain had always actively courted the press, making him something of a rarity among senior Republican pols. And the media largely returned the favor. McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” was a hit with political reporters; the Senator spent hours in the back of his campaign bus, offering doughnuts and swapping stories with correspondents, producers and technicians who covered his presidential bid.

Flash forward eight years and McCain remained a media darling. As recently as a few weeks ago, some pundits believed that press coverage of this year’s campaign “would be a wash,” because the Arizona Senator was just as popular with the media as his Democratic rivals.

But most of us knew better.

In a press corps that votes for Democrats by overwhelming margins, it was just a matter of time before they turned their sights on this year’s presumptive GOP nominee, John McCain. And sure enough, today’s New York Times print is leading the attack, with claims that the Senator might have had a romantic relationship with a female lobbyist during his first run for the White House. There are also charges that McCain did legislative favors for the lobbyist’s clients. But, as Allahpundit observes, this so-called “scandal” seems awfully thin:

A sex scandal that may not be a scandal tucked inside an ethics scandal that may not be an ethics scandal tucked inside an ethics scandal that was a genuine scandal 20 years ago, and for which McCain has begged forgiveness ever since. The Paper of Record.

The media halo’s gone, Maverick. Nothing personal. Just business.

According to Matt Drudge, this “story” has been under development for quite a while. Originally, the NYT was trying to prove that the lobbyist had actually written parts of a telecom bill sponsored by McCain. But that accusation didn’t make the final cut, another indicator of how weak the reporting actually is.

Still, the article’s substance doesn’t really matter. Today’s NYT piece signals the start of the media war against John McCain, a campaign that was inevitable, given his party affiliation. In fact, the only folks that seem surprised by the media offensive are with the McCain campaign, which released this angry statement:

“It is a shame that The New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit-and-run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.

“Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career.”

That may be true, but the Times little expose provides an opening for the media to examine every aspect of McCain’s public career, a period that covers more than 40 years. Lest we forget, McCain's public life began well before he entered politics. He became a national hero for his conduct as a POW in North Vietnam, and was (arguably) one of the nation's best-know naval aviators after his return from Hanoi.

And, as we've noted in previous posts, McCain's conduct during that period was sometimes less-than-sterling. By his own admission, McCain was an unfaithful husband during the late 1970s, and his first marriage fell apart. Long-standing rumors suggest that some of McCain's paramours were women under his command--a claim that the Senator has steadfastly denied.

But, if Senator McCain's "relationship" with a lobbyist eight years ago is fair game, what about his conduct as a senior naval officer? We can only wonder if the NYT (and other MSM outlets) have been poking around the Navy's aviation community, looking for anyone who can detail McCain's romantic exploits from three decades ago.

Afterall, adultery was--and is--a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and romantic relationships between subordinates and superiors are also prohibited. Besides, accounts of McCain's behavior during that period would fit the template established by the NYT article, suggesting a man given to personal and ethical lapses.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this episode has been the reaction of the McCain camp. In a press conference in Ohio this morning, the Senator again expressed "disappointment" in the Times. As if he actually expected the mother church of liberal media orthodoxy to treat him fairly. If that accurately summarizes the candidates' perception, both Senator McCain (and the GOP) have a serious problem.

Michelle Malkin said it best: "lie down with MSM dogs, get up with stories like this." And, here's another point-worth-pondering for the McCain campaign. Imagine if all the time and effort devoted to courting the media had been spent with a more important group, the Republican base. The Senator would still get his share of hit pieces in the NYT, but he might find more Republicans voting for him in the primaries, and more conservatives leaping to his defense.


mongoose said...

Consider the source. The New York Times should join the papers on display in grocery store check-out lines.

crosspatch said...

As long as McCain was taking pot shots at the Republican establishment, he was the friend of the press. The moment he BECOMES the Republican establishment, he becomes the target of the press.