It is certainly no secret that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is a darling of the news media. Reporters routinely attach “maverick,” “straight talker” and “patriot” to him like Homeric epithets. Chris Matthews of MSNBC has even called the press “McCain’s base” — a comment that Mr. McCain himself has jokingly reiterated. The mainstream news media by and large don’t cover Mr. McCain; they canonize him. Hence the moniker on liberal blogs: St. McCain.
What is less obvious, however, is exactly why the press swoons for him. The answer, which says a great deal about both the political press and Mr. McCain, may be that he is something political reporters really haven’t seen in quite a while, perhaps since John F. Kennedy.
Seeming to view himself and the whole political process with a mix of amusement and bemusement, Mr. McCain is an ironist wooing a group of individuals who regard ironic detachment more highly than sincerity or seriousness. He may be the first real postmodernist candidate for the presidency — the first to turn his press relations into the basis of his candidacy…since the reporters on the bus liked Mr. McCain too much to report on his gaffes, he really didn’t need protection. His candor was without consequence. It was another blandishment to the press…
however much his accessibility, amiability and candor may have defined the news media’s love affair with him in 2000, and however much they continue to operate that way in 2008, there is also something different and more complicated at work now. Joan Didion once described a presidential campaign as a closed system staged by the candidates for the news media — one in which the media judged a candidate essentially by how well he or she manipulated them, and one in which the electorate were bystanders.
By this standard, Mr. McCain’s joviality and seeming honesty with the press in 2000 constituted a very effective scheme indeed, until it came time to woo actual Republican voters. As Time’s Jay Carney once put it, “You get the sense you’re being manipulated by candor, rather than manipulated by subterfuge and deception, but it is a strategy.”
There is something to credit about Gabler’s analysis, but in our view it overcomplicates things. John McCain is clearly personally attractive to many in the media. More importantly, McCain is the media’s perennial second choice. He affirms to the MSM that they are truly objective, neither Democrat nor Republican, though that is clearly not true. McCain flatters the media by allowing them to pretend they are objective by being a “close second” to the person they will actually vote for. Whether the candidate or the media understand this relationship is unknown at this time.