Oh, those nattering nabobs of negativity, as former Vice President Spiro Agnew famously described the media.
As the GOP gathered for day three of its convention, the McCain campaign was crying foul over what it maintains is overly critical coverage of Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, whom John McCain named to the veep spot.
According to the McCain messaging machine, media coverage of Palin has “crossed the line” and amounted to “cheap shots” and, indeed, even “absolute works of fiction.”
In her speech Wednesday night, Palin was expected to make the following statement:
“I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment. And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion — I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country.”
Steve Schmidt, a top strategist for the campaign, charged the press with being “on a mission to destroy” Palin, according to the Washington Post. Cindy McCain told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an interview Wednesday that the tilt of the coverage was “outlandish” and “insulting” and fueled by pervasive sexism — a charge the campaign of former Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton raised during her primary run.
Some wonder if the intense media scrutiny will make Palin a sympathetic figure in the eyes of femme voters, a key constituency that was clearly a motivating factor in McCain’s selection of Palin.
Palin coverage since McCain revealed her as his veep partner last Friday has focused on her professional record, her personal life and her ideological bona fides. Is she really a reformer, as the McCain campaign claims? Can she be an effective commander-in-chief in waiting while a mother of five children, one of them an infant, and with a grandchild on the way? Does she have the experience that the Republicans have been arguing that Dem candidate Barack Obama lacks? Will she stay on the ticket or drop?
Schmidt said the campaign has felt “under siege” from “every rumor and smear,” which have provoked other questions such as whether Palin would submit to a DNA test to prove she is the mother of her youngest child.
Attacking the press when your political message is not getting through is a tradition as old as politics itself. But does blaming the media really work?
“Regardless of your politics, nothing rallies the troops faster than identifying a villain who is the provenance of all one’s woes,” said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis management expert and a former communications official in the Reagan White House. But Dezenhall said there is definitely smoke under this fire.
“Fact is, Republicans will never be shaken from their conviction that the mainstream media has an adversarial agenda toward their party and issues. While they’re not always right about this, they are this time around.”
“The messianic tone of pro-Obama coverage (that) has galvanized the Democrats has simultaneously repulsed Republicans,” he added. If Republicans do perceive the mainstream press as pro-Obama, it follows the press would be anti-McCain (and -Palin), in their view.
The left-leaning watchdog org Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting argued Wednesday that, despite Republican claims to the contrary and the media’s alleged willingness to accept them, McCain’s pick of Palin is not new evidence that he is a “maverick,” as the campaign frequently likes to say.
“Palin’s selection would seem in large part to be an attempt to placate the Republican Party base,” FAIR said in a statement. Most press reports show that the base has indeed largely embraced Palin.
Whether the press is critical of Palin because of bias or typecasting, at least one Republican is happy to witness all the negativity. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, speaking at a panel jointly sponsored by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Politico and Yahoo, begged the media to keep up the critical stories.
“The media has done more for John McCain in the last two days than he’s done for himself in the last year and a half,” DeLay said, according to a report on the website Politico. “Trashing her is waking up the sleeping giant, and the sleeping giant is Republican women.”
Asked if the GOP’s media-bashing was a way of creating a common enemy between McCain and conservatives who had been reluctant to embrace his candidacy, DeLay said: “Exactly. You got it.”