THE PLANK JANUARY 7, 2008
Commenting on my McCain post, WoodyBombay talks back:
Did media members hoist him on their shoulders and carry him
out of the room like he was Vince Lombardi?
It’s a fair question, although, for the record, the answer
in this particular instance is no: McCain exited the town hall on his own two
feet. Still, there’s no denying that the media absolutely loves McCain, and I’d
imagine many readers wonder why that is.
The simple explanation is: McCain affords the press access
like no other candidate. In the McCain campaign, there’s no barrier between
candidate and reporter. If you have a question for McCain, you don’t have to
bother going to his press secretary; you simply go ask him. On some days, you
literally spend eight hours with the candidate, just riding with him in the
back of his bus peppering him with questions on everything from Pakistan
to his philosophical thoughts about suicide. Toward the end of the day, this amount
of unfettered access to the candidate can actually be a bit of a problem, when you start to run
out of questions for him and there are awkward silences. But, on the whole,
it’s hard to overstate the sort of goodwill this access engenders among reporters.
Still, I do wonder why McCain allows this sort of access,
given all the risks it entails. Today, on the ride from Salem
to Nashua, a reporter basically
asked McCain that question, and I thought his answer was fairly telling. McCain
Because we’ve always done it. And if I had stopped it, we
would get crucified. I enjoy it. Believe it or not, I enjoy it. I enjoy the
back and forth. We can fully explore issues that way. I’m not going to be
standing up in a room just giving five- and ten-second answers. . . . I really
believe that presidents run into difficulties when they don’t communicate all
the time with the American people, and I believe that the media is obviously a
prime way of doing that. . . . And also I learn,
these questions make me think. . . . I think it’s intellectually stimulating to
I’d imagine there’s some truth in the second part of that
answer and McCain wasn’t just flattering his interlocutors about how they stimulate him. But I also think
that the first part of the answer—that McCain would be crucified if he suddenly
cut off access, as, in fact, he sort of was back when he was the frontrunner
and was running an incumbent’s campaign with a more buttondown approach
to media relations—may be more true. In a way, McCain may be trapped in his
love affair with the media.
P.S. Speaking of McCain and the media, I was at a dinner
tonight with various political reporters who are up here to cover the
happenings, and it was pretty funny how giddy/relieved they were at the
prospect of a McCain-Obama general election campaign, as opposed to, say, a
Romney-Clinton one. Suddenly, the next 11 months of their lives look a whole
lot more enjoyable.
P.P.S. With all of the love between the media and McCain, I do sometimes wonder if voters feel like a third wheel. At yesterday's packed town hall in Salem, which was in a middle school gym, I witnessed several confrontations between voters sitting in folding chairs on the floor and the reporters who were standing in the aisles blocking their views. In one such showdown, a 50-something white guy (whose face could appear next to the word "flinty" in the dictionary) gave Robert Novak a good shove in the back to move him out of his way. Novak turned around and leaned over to say something to the guy, but, before things could escalate, a heads-up McCain aide scurried over and quickly found a seat for the prince of darkness in another part of the gym.