Putting Boundaries on the Press’s Pursuit of the Palin Story

Jim Rutenberg reports on Team McCain’s attempt to silence real journalism:

Those there that night now feel as if they are living in some sort of alternate reality in the Xcel Energy Center here, where Mr. McCain is to accept the Republican nomination on Thursday. The convention has already included some of the most intense attacks against journalists by a campaign in memory, with Mr. McCain’s aides accusing them of biased, sexist and generally unfair coverage of his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. In the first three days here, Mr. McCain’s aides have sent out news releases criticizing individual reporters for their coverage. They have canceled an interview with Larry King of CNN to protest what they viewed as unfair questioning of a spokesman by Campbell Brown. They have dismissed as “fiction” an article in The New York Times about the process of vetting Ms. Palin. And Mr. McCain’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, has accused journalists here of pursuing a “mission to destroy” Ms. Palin with “a new level of viciousness.” If there is one mission Mr. McCain wants to accomplish at his convention, it is to galvanize conservative voters who have shown signs of depression this year. Traditionally, one surefire way to do that has been to attack the “elitist,” mainstream news media. And Mr. McCain’s campaign has made its anti-news-media message central to the convention program here. In her first speech before a prime-time national audience Wednesday, as the crowd booed the word “media,” Ms. Palin said, “Here’s a little news flash for 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 great country.” The accusations of unfairness rebounded around the conservative talk show and commentary circuit, with the conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, for instance, writing that Ms. Palin “could become a transformative political presence,” and that therefore the “American left” and Mr. Obama’s campaign “are going to have to kill her, and kill her quick.” But, seeming to undermine the campaign’s argument that questions about Ms. Palin stem from bias, Ms. Noonan was heard on a live microphone on MSNBC answering a question about Ms. Palin’s experience: “Most qualified?” she said. “No.” Using a barnyard epithet, she said Mr. McCain had chosen Ms. Palin more for her personal story. “Every time Republicans do that,” she said, “they blow it.” A former McCain strategist, Mike Murphy, agreed, saying, “The greatest of McCain is no cynicism, and it is cynical.” Ms. Noonan later apologized for the epithet on The Journal’s Web site and said she liked Ms. Palin. Some of the friction with the news media was a natural outcome of Mr. McCain’s choice of a relatively unknown running mate, sending the press corps to vet her and raise questions about whether Mr. McCain had done so thoroughly enough. But his aides said the reporting had included inaccuracies and unfair approaches. They pointed to the cover of Us Weekly, which features a photograph of Ms. Palin and the words “Babies, Lies and Scandals.” Us is owned by Jann Wenner, a supporter of Senator Barack Obama. A cover in June featured Mr. Obama and his family with the headline, “Why Barack Loves Her.” “We’d vastly prefer to criticize our opponent’s record before we ever criticize the media’s,” said Tucker Bounds, the spokesman who scrapped with Ms. Brown of CNN. “But there has to be attention given to the fact that reporters are not being responsible brokers of information.” But the campaign’s attacks on the news media have been viewed by journalists and some strategists here as also serving tactical needs. Among them are to build a case that Ms. Palin is a victim of sexism, to change the subject, or, in the words of Leonard Downie Jr., the executive editor of The Washington Post, “to put boundaries on the press’s pursuit of the Palin story.” That Mr. McCain is behind these emphatic attacks has startled many, especially those journalists who have known Mr. McCain longest. “Probably no one in American politics over the last 20 years has had a closer relationship with the national press than John McCain,” said Albert R. Hunt, the executive Washington editor for Bloomberg News.

Those of us who thought the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004 were the most dishonest points in American politics we’d see in our lifetimes were simply wrong – Team McCain lies at every turn and then attacks the media when the truth might be raising its head.