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 V.17 No.38 | September 18 - 24, 2008 

Thin Line

A Fight McCain Can’t Win

Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign prodded a drowsy, sharp-tongued beast.

Throughout the Republican National Convention, politicians, including McCain, derided the press for playing sides in the presidential race. They mocked what they said was the media's unfair treatment of McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and accused the media of being covertly sexist.

But, as the Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly points out, McCain’s war with the media started before he selected Palin as his vice president. In July, McCain’s campaign decided to limit reporters’ access to the senator. The man who pioneered the “Straight Talk Express” is keeping journalists at arm’s length. Never mind that the campaign has refused to allow the press to ask Palin any questions at all, save for an interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson last week.

McCain is taking a gamble that won’t pay off. When the “Straight Talk” bus was in full swing, reporters were given open access to the candidate and allowed to ask him almost anything. As Reilly points out, McCain was treated kindly by the media partially because of this symbiotic relationship. With that rapport damaged, McCain could face a bumpy road ahead.

The Democratic and Republican conventions are over. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama will have to rely on newspapers, TV and radio to get their talking points out to the masses, Reilly notes. A glance at the Associated Press’ top stories on Sept. 10 provides evidence that the more forthright candidates are, the more input they have on the coverage they receive.

Of the stories that have to do with the presidential race, three out of four offer good news for the senator from Illinois. One of the articles features Obama accusing the McCain campaign of “lies and phony outrage.” Another points out that, as governor of Alaska, Palin contributed to the pork barrel spending McCain claims to loath. The final Obama-friendly piece reports former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul turned down an offer to endorse McCain.

The one piece of good news for McCain is an article about the warm welcome Palin received when she returned home to Alaska.

The problem with the latter piece for McCain is that articles about the enthusiasm surrounding Palin are bound to die out. She attracts a lot of people to rallies, but stories reporting on the large crowds can only last so long. When was the last time you saw an article about Obama drawing a big audience? People start to take the throngs of supporters for granted.

Reilly offers his own evidence for the press’ ire by citing McCain-bashing stories posted on the McClatchy Company’s Washington bureau website.

It was bad enough that the McCain campaign turned its back on the press in July and then allowed even less access to Palin. But McCain’s chiding of the media is an especially dangerous decision. The press will fight back, and the warning shots have already been fired.


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