Monday, November 26, 2007

John McCain and the Media Part II

It’s interesting how Senator McCain is received in the press. I’ve heard complaints that Senator McCain doesn’t get a fair shake in the press, and complaints that he’s a media darling. Oddly enough, I think both sides have a point. First, the reason Senator McCain has reporters that genuinely like him is simple, he’s incredibly accessible and a likable guy. He answers all questions, from reporters and voters alike. I challenge anyone to name another politician that takes all comers in the manner Senator McCain does. The other day I a was on a blogger call with Senator McCain, and I was sitting on the line thinking, ‘How in the world am I on the phone with Senator McCain?’ He doesn’t just talk to bloggers, he does Meet the Press, he does the John Stewart Show, he does Hardball, along with many more. Hardball and John Stewart illustrate why many members of the media like him so much. Both of those shows are not reflective of the Senator’s views, but he comes on and answers their questions anyway, and he does so gracefully and with humor. The hosts of those two shows have both made statements that they just like the guy, even though they often don’t agree with him. One can argue whether it’s fair that these people like him, but the Senator gives them good cause to do so.

Now the other side of the coin is, does Senator McCain get a fair shake in general media terms? While I don’t think networks sit around thinking up ways to trip up the McCain campaign, I do think he has received the brunt side of biased reporting. The most blatant example of this is Iraq. Unfortunately, Iraq has become one of the most politicized issues in years. This isn’t just done by politicians, but by networks and reporters as well. Senator McCain has made his stance on Iraq clear from the beginning and has taken a beating for it from left leaning news networks. Now that the situation in Iraq is improving he’s not receiving the credit he is due for pushing for a change in strategy and for answering hard questions from reporters that other candidates avoided with platitudes like, ‘There are no good answers in Iraq’.

Now it is somewhat a toss up whether the coverage of the Iraq last spring and summer was due to bias, poor reporting, or both. However, there was little information given about what the surge was and why it was different than the previous strategy. The impression left by news networks was that the surge simply meant additional troops. The change in strategy itself was given little to no coverage, and the surge (along with Senator McCain) was decried as being a foolish and stubborn policy. The perception given by the media was that Senator McCain walked in lock step with President Bush, and it was ignored that Senator McCain pushed for a strategy change years before it was implemented. Now that there are signs of success in Iraq you still don’t see these networks willing to point out progress, instead they say nothing.

Then the question comes up; are the networks pushing a particular candidate, and is this reflected in their reporting? Are they trying to promote a particular party? Does the network itself pick a candidate or are individual reporters responsible for promoting one candidate and not another? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that they are doing a poor job at appearing objective. Mayor Giuliani has a friendship with Roger Ailes the head of Fox News, and while I in no way fault either one for having this friendship, I do wonder if it affects the network’s objectivity. CNN has been dubbed the ‘Clinton News Network’ for a reason, and the over-the-top reporting of Rick Sanchez this week only helped to reinforce that moniker. The large number of opinion shows on cable news makes it difficult to know what is genuine reporting, and what is opinion. The strength of Senator McCain in the media is that he continues to keep answering the hard questions that others avoid, and it wins him respect from a wide range of people. His challenge is that the network’s agenda may not include him, and that he may have to find a way to win despite the fog created by poor and biased reporting.

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