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Free Ride: John McCain and the Mediaby Paul Waldman
Synopses & Reviews
How He Won Their Hearts
Steve: My friend and I have this argument, and here it is. He says when you're at a place like this, you can't just be yourself, you need an act. So anyway, I saw you standing there, so I thought, A, I could just leave you alone; B, I could come up with an act; or C, I could just be myself. I chose C. What do you think?
Linda: I think that A, you have an act, and that B, not having an act is your act.
There's no doubt about it: John McCain is a popular guy. In an age of partisan rancor, he gets favorable ratings not just from members of his own party, but from plenty of independents and Democrats as well. He is considered both ideologically moderate and someone to whom the excesses of contemporary politics--artificiality, nastiness, preferential treatment for financial backers--don't seem to apply.
But nowhere is McCain more popular than with the Washington, DC, journalistic establishment. Indeed, one struggles to recall a prominent political figure in recent decades who has received such sustained adulation from the ordinarily cynical press corps.
How did he do it? How did John McCain manage to turn a pack of snarling beasts into obedient service animals, ready to do his bidding at every turn? As a starting point, it is important to keep in mind that it is, in fact, something McCain did, not something that happened by accident. While every politician seeks the best news coverage he or she can get, McCain employed a strategy that has been uniquely effective. And it is a strategy.
The Three Foundations
The press's affection for John McCain is built on three foundations: his Vietnam experience, his advocacy for campaign finance reform, and his style in dealing with reporters. McCain and his advisers display a deep understanding of how each functions, how to sustain their effectiveness, and how far they can be pushed. At first glance, these may seem like three very different matters: a factor of personal biography, a prosaic and often arcane policy issue, and a simple matter of personal relationships. But when it comes to McCain they actually have a great deal in common and add up to a portrait the press paints of the Arizona senator as not simply unlike other politicians, but the very antithesis of other politicians. Like a concave mirror, the prism through which the press views their subjects takes all that they dislike about politicians and inverts it to construct the figure of John McCain.
In all three cases, McCain has become for the press the opposite of everything they think is wrong with things as they are, and so he comes to embody for them the hope of a better politics. They view politicians as craven; McCain's undeniable courage in Vietnam casts him as the bravest of politicians, whether such bravery is truly in evidence at a particular moment or not. They view politicians as shameless supplicants to their contributors; McCain's advocacy of campaign finance reform makes him in their eyes the premier "reformer" in American politics (despite the weaknesses of the legislation he advocates and his spotty record on reform). They view politicians as cynically manipulative, fundamentally artificial, and endlessly hostile when it comes to dealing with journalists; McCain's attentive courting makes him "genuine" and "authentic" in a way no other politician
Furnishes an insightful look at the role of the media in John McCain's rise to political prominence, revealing how the media shapes the political debate and how the media has consistently supported McCain, despite problems that would have led to criticism of other politicians. Original. 17,500 first printing.
We live in a gotcha media culture that revels in exposing the foibles and hypocrisies of our politicians. But one politician manages to escape this treatment, getting the benefit of the doubt and a positive spin for nearly everything he does: John McCain. Indeed, even during his temporary decline in popularity in 2007, the media continued to support him by lamenting his fate rather than criticizing the flip flops and politicking that undermined his popular image as a maverick.
David Brock and Paul Waldman show how the media has enabled McCain's rise from the Keating Five scandal to the underdog hero of the 2000 primaries to his roller-coaster run for the 2008 nomination. They illuminate how the press falls for McCain's “straight talk” and how the Arizona senator gets away with inconsistencies and misrepresentations for which the media skewers other politicians. This is a fascinating study of how the media shape the political debate, and an essential book for every political junkie.
About the Author
David Brock is the author of four political books, including The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy. In his preceding book, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, a 2002 New York Times bestselling political memoir, he chronicled his years as a conservative media insider.
Paul Waldman is the author or coauthor of three books on politics and media, including The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World. His last book was Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success. He is also a columnist for The American Prospect.
Table of Contents
The myth of McCain — How he won their hearts — Manufacturing McCain — Stuck with the man — Not-so-straight talk — With moderates like these-- — Hopelessly devoted.
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