[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
I am so sick of hearing about how the media are biased toward Barack Obama. It's bad enough that John McCain's campaign is making this completely bogus claim, but now the mainstream media are reporting it as if the slant towards Obama is a given. (Today, a Yahoo! news headline blared, "McCain vs. Obama: Is the media playing fair with coverage?.")
Once again, the McCain camp is taking a page from the playbook Hillary Clinton employed against Obama. And while Clinton's claim was dubious enough, for McCain to try and argue that he is not being treated fairly by the media is downright outrageous. Why? Because nobody in the history of modern politics has been a bigger media sweetheart than John McCain. And in this campaign, he is allowed to virtually say or do anything without being called on it.
The ridiculousness of McCain claiming that he is getting the short end of the stick with the mainstream media is so silly, since the idea that he gets coddled by the press is hardly a new idea. MediaMatters keeps a running list of instances in which the media have failed to challenge or present an accurate portrait of McCain's views. And it's a substantial list.
Back in March, Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece on Salon.com that expertly described the special treatment the press accords McCain, and how liberal pundits are just as likely to drink the McCain Kool-Aid. Greenwald concentrates on the idea that it is taken as a given that McCain is a foreign policy expert, so his gaffes are ignored. He writes:
"Reporters have already decided that John McCain is a Serious, Knowledgeable Foreign Policy Expert -- and an honorable, truth-telling gentleman -- and therefore there is no reason to tell voters about evidence that demonstrates that he's anything but that. Evidence that reflects poorly on McCain's foreign policy seriousness or character is actually suppressed or concealed because they think it can't be newsworthy, because such evidence just can't be true, by definition."
Greenwald goes on to note that "reporters who have long covered McCain themselves constantly admit that they accord McCain special, favorable treatment and don't even realize the deep corruption they're acknowledging." He cites Ann Marie Cox of Time saying on CNN:
"I think what happens is that you -- if you've been covering him for a long time, there's a sense that, well, he does that all the time, it's not worth reporting, because he does -- he's a cranky old man. I mean, to be quite frank. . . . And also, we wrote it off to, like, you know, he hadn't had his fifth cup of Starbucks today."
The issue of the moment when Greenwald wrote his Salon.com article was McCain's repeated gaffe of saying that Iran was linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq. But it's not like McCain has stopped there. In the last couple of weeks, he has repeatedly talked about "Czechoslovakia," a country that hasn't existed for 15 years, and, just this morning, he described "the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border" on ABC's Good Morning America. Only, Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border
I am not arguing that McCain's geographical aphasia is quid pro quo proof of his foreign policy incompetence. But I am arguing that McCain never gets called on his errors by the mainstream media (Diane Sawyer was silent after his Iraq-Pakistan statement on Good Morning America), where Obama would absolutely be taken to task (and probably called inexperienced) if he made the same errors.
More importantly, the mainstream media's genuflection at the feet of McCain keeps the facts of McCain's lack of foreign policy acumen from reaching voters. Tom Brokaw cited an ABC News/Washington Post poll on Meet the Press yesterday that said that respondents overwhelmingly believe that McCain would make a better commander in chief than Obama. Given the media coverage, it's easy to see why Americans currently feel that way. But that doesn't mean the evidence backs up that belief.
As Greenwald noted in his March Salon.com article:
"The reality is that John McCain's understanding of foreign policy and his approach to national security has proven to be simplistic, destructive and idiotic. Nobody spewed more pre-invasion falsehoods and confused and misleading claims about Iraq than John McCain did. And he's been the Prime Cheerleader for one of the most destructive wars in U.S. history. The notion that he has expertise in foreign policy or sound judgment is a total myth, yet it's one that his press fans accept and enforce as orthodoxy.
"McCain's simple-minded militarism, his ignorance about national security, and his moronic view that the U.S. should run the world through endless wars ought to be one of the most intensely debated issues in the campaign. But it won't be because -- as Marcus said -- the media has already decided that McCain is a Serious Expert in these matters and that national security is his strength, and evidence to the contrary won't be reported."
I share Greenwald's frustration over how the mainstream media takes McCain's experience and expertise in foreign policy as a given. I made the same argument in this space on July 1 and pointed out how prescient Obama's judgments have been on the same issues.
It is frustrating that the media repeatedly refer to McCain as being a "maverick" (a Yahoo! news search of "McCain maverick" returned 520 hits in just the last three weeks) and as someone who frequently goes against the leadership of his party, even though he voted 98 percent of the time with his fellow Republicans (43 of 44) in 2007, and with Bush 95 percent of the time in 2007 and 89 percent of the time since Bush took office (according to a Congressional Quarterly voting study).
It is also frustrating that the mainstream media is quick to call Obama a flip-flopper for changing his view on FISA (and allegedly changing his views on Iraq and gun control, even though the evidence shows that his message has been consistent on these issues), while failing to mention McCain's reversals of his positions on virtually every issue of substance, from taxes to Iraq to torture to the economy. (I wrote at length about McCain's flip-flops on July 6.)
It may well be true that Obama's trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Europe is getting a lot of press coverage, and much of that coverage is positive. But given how the mainstream media have glossed over McCain's inadequacies, treating his foreign policy gaffes the way the press ignored John F. Kennedy's affairs, for McCain to make the claim that he is getting screwed by the mainstream media is truly laughable.
But it is effective. A Rasmussen poll released today revealed that 49 percent of those asked thought that reporters were trying to help Obama win. Give McCain's campaign credit. They've done a good job of shoveling this manure into the public consciousness.
Maybe I am making a strategic mistake here. Maybe I should be urging the media to grant McCain more coverage. Because shining a light on McCain's views, conduct, record and speaking style can only help Obama's candidacy.