Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Free Ride

"The press loves McCain. We're his base." - Chris Matthews

I read the draft of this book some months ago and it's really quite good. While we all have a general sense of the degree to which the national press will bend over backwards to excuse anything St. McCain does, Free Ride documents this history with horrifying but entertaining detail. More than that, it shows how at odds the national media, who worship Saint McCain, are with the local media in Arizona, who know a bit more a bit the real senator.

The site will be rolling out the top myths about McCain. Here's #1:

Perhaps no word has been used to describe John McCain more often than "maverick." In January and February of 2008 alone, McCain was called a "maverick" more than 1,300 times in newspapers and on television. And those who use the label to describe McCain rarely explain just what he has done to earn it. But a closer examination of his record shows that McCain isn't quite the maverick that he is made out to be. The truth is that McCain's breaks from the Republican Party line are few and far between. According to Congressional Quarterly's "party unity" ratings, since he came to the Senate in 1989, there have been only three years in which McCain voted with his party less than 80 percent of the time. When he has gone against the party line -- such as on campaign finance reform, global warming, or tobacco regulations -- McCain has taken a position that was overwhelmingly popular with the public, meaning that when he takes a "maverick" stance, he's gaining support with the public -- and hardly taking a political risk.

Just as important, McCain's acts of independence aren't so much on high-profile issues as they are on issues that the press makes high-profile, precisely because of McCain's involvement. In all these cases, something important happens in the media when McCain opposes his party. When an ordinary senator crosses party lines, he or she will join members of the other party and perhaps have occasional opportunities to be quoted or interviewed on the issue in question. When McCain crosses party lines, on the other hand, the story the news media write undergoes a shift: It then becomes a story not about a conflict between Democrats and Republicans, but a story about John McCain and his rebellion. This is why McCain is perceived to be much more of a maverick than Republicans such as Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins, who actually break with the GOP far more often. Yet journalists continue over and over to call McCain a "maverick," seldom questioning whether there might be more to the story.

Even more than other campaigns, this presidential race will pit the Democrat against McCain and his "base," the mainstream media. Combatting and shaming the media into covering McCain and his past accurately will be the job all of us have. Buy the book!