Yesterday, the McCain campaign pilloried the New York Times in a conference call with the press. Senior adviser Steve Schmidt, taking offense at a Times piece that scrutinized McCain's campaign manager, bawled:
Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization. It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization that every day attacks the McCain campaign, attacks Sen. McCain, attacks Gov. Palin and excuses Sen. Obama.
This is an organization that is completely, totally 150 percent in the tank for the Democratic candidate. ... Everything that is read in the New York Times that attacks this campaign should be evaluated by the American people from that perspective, that it is an organization that has made a decision to cast aside its journalistic integrity and tradition to advocate for the defeat of one candidate, in this case, John McCain, and advocate for the election for the other candidate, Barack Obama.
The Times devoted a short write-up to Schmidt's inflammatory remarks in today's edition. Spraying flame retardant on the embers, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller issued a statement, quoted in the article, stating that the paper has covered both candidates "fully, fairly, and aggressively."
The attack on the Times elicited liberal shrieks: Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. blogged that the McCain campaign was trying to "intimidate and discredit those who try to give an honest account of the campaign." New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen declared on Romenekso that if the McCain campaign regards the Times a "political action committee working for Obama … then why does the Times have to treat the McCain crew as a 'normal' campaign organization, rather than a bunch of rogue operators willing to say absolutely anything to gain power and lie to the nation once in office?" For the Huffington Post's Sam Stein, Schmidt's comments amounted to a declaration of war against the press.
Jeesh! Have we really gotten to the point at which a presidential campaign operative can't throw a bag of rotten, wormy peaches at the press without getting a load of grief in return? I don't recall journalists—or their defenders—howling like this after the Hillary Clinton campaign and Saturday Night Livespotted the press corps petting Obama so heavily.
While I don't believe that the Times is pulling for Barack Obama, and I'd never judge an entire publication by one story, Steve Schmidt is right about the more general point he raises: The press corps does adore Barack Obama. They like his story. They like writing about him. They like the way he gives speeches. They like the way he makes them feel. And they don't mind cutting him slack whenever he acts like a regular politician—which he is.
This, of course, is the same press corps that adored John McCain during the 2000 race, as this comprehensive study by FAIR shows. The press corps liked his honesty. They liked the access he provided them. They liked his maverick stance. They liked the way he made them feel. And they didn't mind cutting him slack whenever he acted like a regular politician—which he was, most of the time.
Back in 2000, McCain—like Obama today—had no compunction about capitalizing on the infatuation. But such puppy love between press and candidate is unsustainable. The longer a politician hangs around Washington, the longer he casts votes in the Senate, the more baggage-laden staffers he acquires, the more campaign donations he accepts, and the more meat he produces for the press to chew on. And in the heat of the campaign, chew they will.