If the press were its own lobby, they were bought cheap last weekend.
Just about every major newspaper filed a Monday morning fuzzy story on the Sunday BBQ St. McCain held for his favorite media pals. They drooled and enthused as they dined on the ribs, cooked to perfection by the chef-in-chief who controlled the heat of the barbeque and the heat of the press in one fell swoop. McCain deftly took the reins of control for his own treatment in the mainstream media; no more unauthorized drips of fat in the fire. All straight talk will now come directly from the horse's mouth.
No more digging about for the lobbying connections and McCain's problems with the FEC. Nope. That's old news. The press gaggle won't suffer injustices of the New York Times, whose reporters were not among the invited guests. No, the media will hold court with the war hero and continue to dine on the talking points handed to them by McCain's very practiced media handlers. This tactic is no news either, but it will be played as if it were. McCain is now the "new and improved" candidate with a clean slate and a new message. His words will be taken at face value; the minister of ethics wouldn't lie.
The February 22, New York Times piece did McCain a big favor by emphasizing the sexual liaisons of his lobby ties; follow the money took the back seat. The Times came out with egg on its face, and few bothered to really investigate the more substantive parts of McMuffin. Because the Times boxed itself into a corner, all things McCain are now suspect, including Elisabeth Bumiller's substantive piece yesterday documenting many of McCain's major policy flip-flops. Penning such a piece with nary a mention of the original report in her own paper less than two weeks earlier must have been tough. She also steered clear of McCain's campaign co-chair who was indicted last week on federal charges of fraud and extortion, another McCain bombshell that no one wants to detonate even remotely.
Predictably, the Bumiller article was not followed by similar headlines in all the major outlets as had been the case with the original piece. The fool me once press colleagues, still on their chakra high, aren't taking that path. And so the press again returns to its early Alzheimer reportage of McCain's record. At the friendly western roast, seldom was heard a discouraging word (and notes and recording devices were not just discouraged, they were verboten). Dutifully, the media will remember and only report on the sauce and forget the meat that drives McCain's hypocritical policies.
Except for Bumiller's piece, there has been very little examination of the real McCain. If any of the McCain press corps have read or are even aware of Matt Welsh's book, John McCain, Myth of a Maverick, it has not been apparent. One quick scan of this book and it would be easy to open the floor to real questions. But the "gotcha" moments seem to be held in reserve for other, generally Democratic, candidates. Any negative reporting on McCain has focused on a few flubs on the campaign trail, most of which pale next to Bushisms. While these flubs are telling, there's been no follow-up and analysis. No, the elder statesman is given room for error without mention of age as he grasps for words. The real McCain remains unsullied-the original flip-flopper, the opportunist, the military man who finished his stint at Annapolis fourth from last in a class of almost 900, the privileged son who wants everyone to believe he's just a regular guy hosting a little barbeque in his backyard on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Except the backyard happens to be a seven acre ranch in one of the toniest spots in all of Arizona, and the hand-picked guest list happen to be those who are in charge of giving the public information about a candidate for the president of the US in a time of political insecurity and crisis.
As McCain refuels and climbs back on his Straight Talk Express, the press is along for the ride. Having been the recipient and observer of the art of lobbying, McCain knows all too well that he's getting much more than he paid for. And, yes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.