If, despite everything he has done, over and over again, to make himself unelectable, John McCain is somehow still elected President in November, it is the most devoted segment of his base, the media, that will be responsible.
The underlying dynamic — which constitutes a campaign asset worth many tens of millions to the McCain campaign — was illustrated perfectly by the well orchestrated brouhaha yesterday over Gen. Wesley Clark‘s remarks about McCain’s unfitness to be president.
Gen. Clark criticized McCain for lacking executive experience. Probably in keen awareness of how the McCain campaign and the media would seek to twist his remarks, he made it very clear that he was not criticizing McCain’s military service record. He was only questioning the unquestioned assumption — made by the McCain campaign, and unquestioningly swallowed by vast segments of the voting population due to the zeal with which it has been unquestioningly repeated by the media — that McCain’s military service record somehow qualifies him to be president.
But, at least in presidential elections in the 21st century, reality is not what it is, it’s what it is made out to be.
The McCain campaign showed the media how Gen. Clark’s comments were to be portrayed: he was to be accused of demeaning and attacking John McCainâ€™s military service record. The fact that he had made clear statements to the contrary was not to matter a bit. (Since those statements could oh-so-easily just be left out of media reports.)
And the media’s response was a heartfelt and devout: “So let it be written! So let it be done!”
— Fox: On the June 29 edition of Fox News‘ The Strategy Room, news correspondent Molly Henneberg asserted that “the McCain campaign is returning fire after [Sen. Barack] Obama supporter General Wesley Clark seemed to attack [Sen. John] McCain’s military service.”
— MSNBC Live: On the June 30 edition of MSNBC Live, anchor Monica Novotny falsely claimed that retired Gen. Wesley Clark “blasted [Sen. John] McCain’s military record” during an appearance on the June 29 edition of CBS‘ Face the Nation.
— ABC: ABC News correspondent David Wright asserted that McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war made Clark’s comments “especially provocative” without telling viewers that Clark had said — just moments prior to the comments Wright aired — that “I certainly honor his [McCain's] service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war.”
— CBS: CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds falsely suggested that Clark had questioned McCain’s patriotism and had “critici[zed]” McCain’s “service, including five years as a POW.”
— NBC: And Brian Williams, anchor of NBC‘s Nightly News, falsely suggested that Clark had impugned McCain’s “war record”
At this point, the entire media seem to be charter members of something that is a cross between a John McCain fan club and a free-wheeling, informal 527 organization. Their motto, no doubt, is borrowed from Lady Macbeth: “I have given suck!” Except that in the media’s case, this statement about the past is also prologue to the unfolding future.
McCain, by the way, responded to Gen. Clark’s comments by saying:
…the important thing is — and if that’s the kind of campaign that Senator Obama and his surrogates and his supporters want to gauge, I understand that, but it doesn’t reduce the price of a gallon of gas by one penny.
Guess how many media outlets today will be reporting that statement? Guess how many of them will also point out that nothing McCain himself has proposed will reduce the the price of a gallon of gas by one penny either? Or not in the next decade, anyway.
For that matter, maybe Media Matters will produce a scorecard today showing how many media outlets told their viewers that in response to Gen. Clark’s comments, the McCain campaign rolled out a Swift Boat liar to defend McCain?