McCain Breaks Out Jedi Mind Tricks; Hypnotizes Media
by JoshuaH, Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 06:48:33 PM EST
So, I sat down and watched McCain's presser on MSNBC.
He's "disappointed" in the New York Times for running such an explosive story relying only on un-named sources.
Cindy McCain -- whose post-op death mask of a face looks like it will crack if she tries to smile -- was "very disappointed" in the Times.
I didn't count, but it felt like St. John complained about how the Times piece only used anonymous sources about 8 times.
Then the conference ended and MSNBC's team of professional bloviators took over. Joe Scarborough thought that the Times had some 'splainin to do -- how could they have run such a piece with only un-named sources?
I honestly thought Pat Buchanan's head was going to explode on live TV, or at least that he was about to burst a blood vessel. 'How dare they run this tripe based on nothing more than anonymous -- and no doubt "disgruntled" -- former staffers!' he shouted (I'm paraphrasing).
Chris Mathews, who was defending the Times, said that Pat had a good point. 'We'll find out more about why this story was released when it was and in the way it was,' he said. Damn their anonymous sourcing!
Throughout much of this gab-fest, the network ran Chyrons along the bottom of the screen that read something like, 'Explosive NY Times story relied on anonymous sources.'
Here's an excerpt from the Times story:
Separately, a top McCain aide met with Ms. Iseman at Union Station in Washington to ask her to stay away from the senator. John Weaver, a former top strategist and now an informal campaign adviser, said in an e-mail message that he arranged the meeting after "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about her.
"Our political messaging during that time period centered around taking on the special interests and placing the nation's interests before either personal or special interest," Mr. Weaver continued. "Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort."
Mr. Weaver added that the brief conversation was only about "her conduct and what she allegedly had told people, which made its way back to us." He declined to elaborate.
The heart of the Times (and Washington Post) story is that staffers became concerned that McCain, the Patron Saint of Straight-Shooterdom, was overly cozy with a lobbying hottie -- a lobbyist whose clients had business before a committee McCain chaired -- and warned her off of the Senator's campaign. That comes from a named source, John Weaver, who says he was personally present at a meeting with Iseman, and personally warned her off. The details of who said what are in dispute, but Iseman herself confirmed that the meeting took place. That's two named sources who were present. Yet McCain says again and again that there were only anonymous sources, and the good reporters at MSNBC get a major case of the vapors.
And look at this graph from an AP story:
The 3,000-word Times story quoted unnamed McCain aides as saying that some of his top advisers feared that the senator was not aware of potentially damaging appearances of conflict of interest, and had asked the lobbyist to distance herself from him.
That's precisely the part of the story that relied on John Weaver, named and on the record, but McCain said there were just "unnamed sources" and the AP just writes it up.
OBI-WAN KENOBI: These are not the droids you're looking for.
STORM TROOPER: These are not the droids we're looking for.
OBI-WAN KENOBI: He can go about his business.
STORM TROOPER: You can go about your business.
OBI-WAN KENOBI: (to Luke) Move along.
STORM TROOPER: Move along. Move along.
That's not to say there aren't legitimate criticisms to be made -- the timing is a story unto itself and the sexual affair aspect was based on two independent un-named sources, although they "spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others." And I'm no longer of a mind to defend the Times from right-wing smears -- not after their breathless WMD reporting and hiring of über-hack Bill Kristol. But, really, the mindless repetition of McCain's talking point about the piece only using un-named sources is remarkable. Clearly, McCain -- and his surrogates -- are trying to make this a media story about the Times, and the fact that the pundits are so willing to comply says a lot about how silly our discourse is.
Anyway, this race is a load of fun -- it would be even more so if not for the endless bickering between Obama and Clinton supporters -- and this story is going to "break the seal" on the whole question of whether McCain is a straight-shooter, or just another pork-barrel-loving hack like the rest. There's really nothing new here -- parts of this story date back to 2000 -- but it raises ethical questions that have so far been relegated to news junky circles, and it raises them on the front page of every paper in America.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, McCain's "popularity -- his viability -- rests almost entirely on two narratives that have absolutely no connection with reality, [one of which is] his reputation as a straight-talking 'maverick'":
Democrats are not so much running against McCain, the candidate, as McCain, the myth. The Republican Party will be a serious obstacle for the Democratic nominee, but ultimately election 2008 will be as much a battle to overturn the conventional wisdom as it will be a fight with the senator from Arizona.
I concluded: "We have eight months to chip away at a leviathan of spin." This story is going to help.
Because the sexual affair allegation, while perhaps important to the moral scolds of the Right, is not the key aspect of the story. The heart of it is the fact that McCain, who talks a lot about reforming DC, took $20,000 in contributions from Iseman's client, flew around with her in that client's corporate jet, and then sent a letter to the FCC Commissioner that her office had drafted suggesting that the agency rule on an issue of interest to that client.
One of the central themes of his campaign is his assault on earmarks and "pork-barrel" spending. So it's especially sweet that, as the Washington Post notes, Iseman's firm, Alcalde & Fay, has a "client list [that's] heavy with municipalities and local government entities, which suggests that its major emphasis is on the controversial business of winning narrowly targeted, or 'earmarked,' appropriations."
That's gotta sting!
PS: Also, this is really good.