One of John McCain’s real assets going into this election cycle was an unusually positive image among political reporters and pundits, dating back to his careful cultivation of them during his 2000 campaign. Indeed, the role of the media in boosting his political prospects was the subject of a much-discussed (among Democrats, at least) book published earlier this year, by David Brock and Paul Waldman, entitled Free Ride.
Well, McCain’s media fan club has been notably shrinking of late, as nicely summarized by Steve Benen on the occasion of Elizabeth Drew’s disavowal of her past positive feelings about the Arizonan:
McCain is certainly losing friends fast, isn’t he? Drew’s condemnation comes just a couple of days after Richard Cohen’s. Which came a couple of days after Stephen Chapman’s. Which followed Michael Kinsley, Thomas Friedman, Sebastian Mallaby, Joe Klein, E.J. Dionne, Jr., Ruth Marcus, Mark Halperin, and Bob Herbert. Even David Brooks is getting there.
All admired John McCain, all held him in the highest regard, and all have been disgusted as McCain has descended into a Republican hack.
There’s still David Broder, I suppose. But by and large, McCain’s support group is now limited to the conservative advocacy media, most of whose members would be a lot happier if they were thumping the tubs for Mitt Romney.
Will this matter in the real world? Hard to say. At a minimum, the MSM’s growing reluctance to give McCain some sort of personal-honor mulligan could exert a slightly restraining influence over the precise depths of nastiness to which his campaign ultimately descends. During the debates, where media ratings typically have an modest but real effect on how voters perceive the performance of candidates, McCain will not benefit like George W. Bush did in 2000 and 2004 from the personal hostility of reporters and pundits towards his opponent.
Team McCain may, of course, simply incorporate media disdain into its panoply of Evil Forces that their candidate is fighting to vanquish, much as they did during the roll-out of the Palin selection. A full-fledged Nixon-Agnew-style assault on the MSM would definitely please “the base,” along with the Fox News types who want to remake the media world in their own image. But that’s a tricky business, which could backfire by making the MSM, long the validator of McCain’s “maverick” street cred, a real and abiding enemy.
The strange thing about this whole phenomenon is the genuine sense of hurt and betrayal exhibited by McCain’s former media friends. It’s been obvious to a lot of us for quite some time that McCain was going to become very McNasty in this general election, as a strategic necessity. It’s what candidates typically do when their party and ideology are jarringly out of step with public opinion–particularly if they are 72 years old and this is their last shot at the brass ring of the presidency.
It says a lot about the McCain Myth that so many smart people thought he’d do less than whatever it took to put himself into a competitive position out of some sort of invincible sense of decency. But now they know better.