THE PLANK APRIL 15, 2008
John McCain's appearance before the Associated Press's annual meeting yesterday was a telling moment in his relationship with the media. McCain's speech there implicitly made the case for why his campaign should be held to a more forgiving standard.
I believe in giving great access to the press for three reasons. First, I much prefer long back and forths, where reporters have multiple follow ups and I have an opportunity to explain my views in greater detail -- and, occasionally to correct any initial mistakes I might have made in communicating them -- than is allowed in the short exchanges and bright lights of the press avail. The dynamics of the avail, in my opinion, tend to produce more heat than light on your part and excessive caution on the candidate's part. Reporters have one, maybe two shots at me, and they want it to count, by which I mean they would like to catch me in a mistake, a discrepancy or a less than artful expression. And candidates tend to approach them with the primary intention of not saying anything beyond a single message or not saying anything newsworthy at all.
Second, I think reporters are better able to meet their first responsibility of ensuring an informed citizenry if they are allowed to press a candidate for more than a gotcha quote or a comment on whatever the cable driven news environment has decided is the process story of the day.
Last, and most importantly, the responsibility of an informed citizenry is as much my responsibility as it is yours.
The case actually has some merit to it: if McCain is going to talk all day, the media shouldn't jump on his every stray phrase the way it would with candidates who are more guarded. Since more candidate access is in the public interest, reporters should encourage candidates to follow his example, to break out of the cycle of inaccessibility and gotcha journalism he describes.
Of course, the media's double standard can get out of hand:
On the same day, the two media darlings of the presidential election cycle came to address their base -- and McCain easily bested his likely opponent.
McCain's moderators, the AP's Ron Fournier and Liz Sidoti, greeted McCain with a box of Dunkin' Donuts. "We spend quite a bit of time with you on the back of the Straight Talk Express asking you questions, and what we've decided to do today was invite everyone else along on the ride," Sidoti explained. "We even brought you your favorite treat."
McCain opened the offering. "Oh, yes, with sprinkles!" he said.
Sidoti passed him a cup. "A little coffee with a little cream and a little sugar," she said. ...
McCain got a standing ovation -- an honor Obama did not receive when his turn came two hours later.