Polls demonstrate that the American populace, after being told for weeks by the press that the media is too soft on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, agrees that the press really is too soft on Obama. But is mere media malfeasance really the major factor in Republican nominee John McCain’s recent woes? That seems a view remarkably divorced from reality: a cheap excuse that for some reason seems to be trumping common sense in this case.
Let’s just look at the major campaign threads from the past few weeks….
In one case, Republicans had just spent weeks declaring that offshore oil rigs were environmentally safe and pretty much invincible: so tough that they had withstood the mighty Katrina hurricane. This was, of course, such a boldfaced lie that even FoxNews couldn’t stomach it for very long.
As it turned out, this was all ultimately a premise for John McCain to rather implausibly blame Obama for high gas prices… all on the back of his skepticism of offshore drilling: something McCain himself had opposed only months ago (and which most economists are skeptical will make much of a difference in our oil woes, not least of all because oil companies already have offshore drillings rights that they aren’t using, all the while lobbying to be handed even more free money in rights there’s no guarantee of them using either).
While trying to push the unlikely theme even further, McCain scheduled a press event in Louisiana to show off the importance and safety of the oil industry. Unfortunately, he had to cancel the event in the face of one of the worst Gulf oil spills in recent memory. The McCain campaign claimed that the cancellation was due to the weather. But the weather on the schedule day of the event was fine. The reality was simply a boondoggle created by reality, not the press, refusing to supply a backdrop that fit his message.
The McCain campaign had also been daring Obama to go abroad and bring the national media to meet with Iraq’s leaders and assess the “real situation on the ground” in Iraq. This week, Obama took him up on the challenge and did just that… for which the McCain campaign, bizarrely, complained about endlessly, all the while offering such exciting alternative press events as golf with President Bush and the consumption of sausages.
Then, right as Obama was about to reach Iraqi soil and learn how things “really” are in Iraq, it turned out that the Iraqi government essentially favored Obama’s policy ideas over McCain’s, and seemingly by a wide margin. The response from McCain and his political allies was a simple denial of reality.
Next, McCain decided to blunt one of his best claims to special insight into Iraq by implausibly declaring that the surge had been responsible for inspiring events that actually happened several months prior to even its announcement. Instead of simply correcting the gaffe, however, McCain started declaring that by “the surge,” he had meant something different than what he and everyone else had always meant by it.
This however, would make his criticism of Obama incoherent, since Obama had not, in fact, opposed the “counterinsurgency tactics” that McCain claimed actually constituted “the surge,” of which the surge was only a part. And then there’s even some question as to whether McCain actually supported those counterinsurgency tactics himself. To top it all off, it turned out that the very sheik that McCain cited as having been protected by the surge was in fact killed right in the midst of the surge.
Finally, McCain’s camp thought they had something when Obama called himself a proud American and “citizen of the world” in his much-hyped Berlin speech. Nearly everyone on the right, from the sensible to the full-of-itosphere, dropped off the proud American, quoted only the “citizen of the world” part, and lambasted Obama for his supposed cosmopolitan fruitiness. Unfortunately, it took only tiny bit of research to discover that virtually every major Republican politician had used the phrase at some point, all without similar character slurs in response.
In short, the past week or two has been one of a nearly endless stream of gaffes (of which the above are the most substantive, but hardly the only ones) and just plain laughable arguments out of the McCain campaign, along with his effort mostly playing catch-up and critic to Obama rather than striking out on their own and making headlines.
If McCain had announced his VP pick to general press disinterest, there would be more of a case. But he’s yet to do much more than appear with the current President for the 800th time and gripe about Obama doing exactly what he himself challenged Obama to do.
It’s true that the press can manipulate perceptions of reality: frame stories to one side’s advantage or another. But at the same time, we’re not dealing with a world of relatavism, where there is no underlying reality beneath the coverage. And sometimes, it’s reality, not spin, that just isn’t going a candidate’s way.