Thursday, September 25, 2008

On CNN's appalling coverage of Obama, McCain, and the bailout negotiations

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The coverage of McCain's desperate stunt just now on Anderson Cooper was just atrocious. Although the word "stunt" was used, the overall tone was positive. McCain is risking everything, it seems, to suspend his campaign, a huge "gamble" that is well worth taking. There was no mention of what he actually contributed to the proceedings, if anything, and much of the segment showed McCain walking determinedly through the Capitol, playing to the cameras by trying to look like a leader on a mission, refusing to take questions, flanked by pals Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham. And all we learned from Dana Bash is that McCain's position is not to have a position -- which may or may not be true.

After a break, it was time for Obama, but the focus wasn't really on Obama, it was on contrasting Obama and McCain, with yet more time given to positive coverage of McCain's stunt/gamble. Candy Crowley referred to Obama as "cool" and "above the fray," but she did so implying that such coolness may not be a positive trait at this time (or any time). So while McCain was the leader, Obama was his usual detached self -- or so we were being led to believe. Obama was not shown walking determinedly, just hanging about. And then it was all about how Obama and the Democrats are attacking McCain, as if somehow it is Obama who is playing politics during this crisis, not McCain.

(Lousy, lousy coverage. A terrible job by CNN. Anderson Cooper should be ashamed of himself.)

What is clear, though, is that it is McCain who is playing politics by supposedly suspending his campaign (he is actually doing nothing of the sort) and who is needlessly and counter-productively injecting presidential politics into these delicate negotiations.

And yet it seems that McCain actually contributed very little -- indeed, next to nothing.

ABC News: "[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid said McCain was 'not helpful' by suspending his campaign and heading to Washington, claiming it was difficult to 'understand what John McCain said at the [White House] meeting.' He said McCain spoke last and only for several moments, and did not contribute anything. 'McCain only hurt this process,' Reid said. Asked if McCain expressed interest in taking part in negotiations on Capitol Hill, Reid said, 'No.'"

Politico: "Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said that 'nobody mentioned McCain' during the several-hour-long meeting on the $700 billion market rescue plan, other than Frank and that his Republican colleagues 'winced' when he did. 'He's been irrelevant to the process. He remains to be,' said Frank."

Tonight, the deal is in trouble.

McCain is playing leader, and the media are playing along, but he isn't actually leading anything. And it is unlikely that he'll be the one to bring the revolting House Republicans, the free-market extremists of the right, into the fold. (Though he seems to be doing his best to cozy up to them and represent their interests. He's such a maverick!)

He's just a distraction, and a nuisance, and, in desperation, he's brought his run for the presidency to Washington to capitalize on the crisis.

If anything actually gets done, it will be in spite of McCain, not because of him, but look for him to take the credit anyway, just as he always does. His stunt isn't a gamble, it's a calculated strategy, and all he's risking is the bailout itself.

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