The story of the day out here in Minneapolis is the McCain campaign’s war against the press. This has been building for some time. Those of us who have criticized the candidate–and especially those of us who enjoyed good relations with McCain in the past–have been subject to off-the-record browbeating and attempted bullying all year. But things have gotten much worse in recent days: there was McCain’s rude, bizarre interview with Time Magazine last week. Yesterday, McCain refused to an interview with Larry King, for God’s sake, because Campbell Brown had been caught in the commission of journalism on CNN the night before, asking McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds what decisions Sarah Palin had made as commander-in-chief of the Alaska national guard. (There was an answer that the unprepared Bounds didn’t have: she had deployed them to fight fires.)
So what’s going on here? Two things. McCain is just plain angry at us. By the evidence presented in the utterly revealing Time interview, he’s ballistic. This is a politician who needs to see himself as the man on the white horse, boldly traversing a muddy field…any intimations that he’s gotten muddied in the process, or has decided to throw mud, are intolerable.
The second thing is more insidious: Steve Schmidt has decided, for tactical reasons, to slime the press. He wants the public to believe that there is an unfair–sexist (you gotta love it)–personal assault going on against Palin and her family. This is a smokescreen, intended to divert attention from the very real and responsible vetting that is taking place in the media–about the substance of Palin’s record as mayor and governor. Sure, there are a few outliers–and the tabloid press–who have fixed on baby stories. That was inevitable….the flip side of the personal stories that the McCain team thought would work to their advantage–Palin’s moose-hunting and wolf-shooting, and her admirable decision to have a Down Syndrome baby. And yes, when we all fix on the same story, whether it’s a hurricane or a little-known politician, a zoo ensues. But the media coverage of the Palin story has been well within the bounds of responsibility. Schmidt is trying to make it seem otherwise, a desperate tactic.
There is a tendency in the media to kick ourselves, cringe and withdraw, when we are criticized. But I hope my colleagues stand strong in this case: it is important for the public to know that Palin raised taxes as governor, supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it, pursued pork-barrel projects as mayor, tried to ban books at the local library and thinks the war in Iraq is “a task from God.” The attempts by the McCain campaign to bully us into not reporting such things are not only stupidly aggressive, but unprofessional in the extreme.