Monday, August 25, 2008

Into the gutter: McCain, the media, and the campaign to smear Obama

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yet another example of the media's abominable coverage of the presidential race

You may have heard about this already, but let me address is quickly: Yesterday on ABC's This Week, Beltway insider Mark Halperin of Time commented that the whole flap over McCain's not knowing how many houses he owns "is going to end up being one of the worst moments in the entire campaign" -- for Obama. Why? Because it now allows McCain and the Republicans to target Obama on Rezko, Wright, and Ayers. "I think it would have been hard for John McCain, given the way he says he's going to run his campaign, to do all this stuff without the door being opened."

Steve Benen, now at Political Animal, is right to call Halperin's comment "bizarre," some "worst political analysis of the presidential campaign. McCain has already gone negative, and hypocritically so. Indeed, it now seems as if almost his entire campaign is about smearing Obama. Even when he talks up his experience and character -- the two key elements of his mythology -- he goes negative, implying that Obama has neither and sometimes, as when trying to make the case that Obama wants the U.S. to lose the Iraq War, being quite explicit about it. There was no need for a door to be opened. The door was wide open already, and McCain had already gone through it.

But this is very much what the media do, not just Halperin. McCain is given a free pass most of the time, while Obama is held to an unattainable standard. It was McCain, in this case, who proved that he is divorced not just from reality but from the reality of his own life. McCain and the Republicans smear Obama for allegedly being an effete, out-of-touch elitist celebrity who cares more about being popular in Berlin than about dealing with the problems facing Americans, and the media buy into those smears and repeat them, acting as willing offshoots of the GOP Smear Machine, but Obama is apparently not permitted to respond to McCain on the house comment, a comment that reveals a great deal about what sort of a person McCain is.

To be fair, This Week host George Stephanopoulos said he had "a little trouble following [Halperin's] argument," but the issue is the larger dynamic at work here with respect to the media's coverage of the race. Benen:

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Halperin's mind-numbing commentary is the underlying strategic message it offers Obama: If McCain makes a humiliating mistake, don't say anything. If you do, you'll get smeared and you'll deserve it. Even if McCain accuses you of treason, don't fight back. It'll only empower McCain to take the campaign even further into the gutter.

And so into the gutter we go, and inevitably so. Not because of Obama but because it's where McCain and the Republicans prefer to do their politicking.

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