Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fred Hiatt and counterfactuals: Yet another example of the media's abominable coverage of the 2008 presidential race

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Speaking of abominable coverage at WaPo...)

There are so many counterfactuals to ponder, aren't there? So many "what ifs"?

-- What if Hillary had beaten Obama?
-- What if Obama had picked Hillary?
-- What if McCain had picked Romney?
-- What if Romney had beaten McCain?

And so on.

Well, here's one from the WaPo's Fred Hiatt: What if McCain had played nice and run a positive campaign?

Like Dan Balz's double-standard-pushing post at WaPo's The Trail, Fred Hiatt's dismal piece is full of the usual pro-McCain spin, elements of the self-serving myth that McCain has carefully promulgated throughout his career and that the media have eagerly lapped up, regurgitated, and lapped up again and again. Consider this paragraph of drivel:

[H]onor is at the core of McCain's self-image. He's been running for president, more on than off, for almost a decade, but his determination hasn't had much to do with a highly defined ideology, program or set of policies. What underlies his ambition are values: service, patriotism, duty, honor.

Right, it's all about McCain's character and values, not his "ideology, program or set of policies" -- like so many of McCain's media enablers, Hiatt doesn't bother to address what McCain may actually be for and against, most of which is hard-line conservative. This is the McCain of the McCain myth: McCain the war hero POW, McCain the maverick, McCain the moderate, McCain the reformer, McCain the patriot, McCain the incarnation of self-sacrifice, the man of honour who always puts country before self. Hiatt, like to many others, simply buys into this myth without question, without reservation.

McCain has gone negative? Oh, that's not the real McCain. (Just like the real McCain isn't conservative). Indeed, Hiatt actually excuses McCain's vicious smearing of Obama:

It may be that it's easier for such a campaign to get blown off course. In an exceptionally pro-Democratic year, against an exceptionally unflappable opponent, it's not surprising that a campaign without bedrock policy goals would try first one thing, then another, with one of those things being character assassination.

See, it's only because his campaign got blown off course. It's not McCain's fault, it's the fault of external forces, like the wind, over which he had little or no control. To his credit, Hiatt at least acknowledges that "as McCain was speaking [and sort of defending Obama], his campaign ads were calling Obama a liar." Moreover, he ends his piece by noting that positivity is "what the campaign could have been about, if McCain had really wanted it that way," but the emphasis throughout is still on how the McCain of 2008, the McCain who picked Palin and who is waging a bitterly angry, divisive, and bigoted campaign, is really just a corruption, and an understandable one, given the circumstances, of the man of "service, patriotism, duty, honor."

But it hardly matters what Hiatt thinks McCain might have "really wanted." This is the campaign McCain has run, it is his responsibility, and it is he who must be held accountable for it.

Counterfactuals aside, he hasn't played nice and it hasn't been positive. And this isn't because of external factors, or because the real McCain has been corrupted, morphing into this new version that his media adorers no longer recognize, but because of McCain himself, who, as I have said many times, has a long history of being nasty and brutish. The "old" McCain was just a myth, a legend, a facade propped up by the media. The real McCain is the one who, this year, has finally been exposed.

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