David Brooks: The Media Is Responsible for McCain’s Negative Campaign

McCain had no choice but to run a negative campaign; he didn’t want to, but they made him do it:

When McCain and his team set out to win the presidency in 2008, they hoped to run a campaign with this sort of spirit. McCain would venture forth on the back of his bus, going places other Republicans don’t go, saying things politicians don’t say, offering the country the vision of a different kind of politics — free of circus antics — in which serious people sacrifice for serious things.

It hasn’t turned out that way. McCain hasn’t been able to run the campaign he had envisioned. Instead, he and his staff have been given an education by events.

McCain started out with the same sort of kibitzing campaign style that he used to woo the press back in 2000. It didn’t work. This time there were too many cameras around and too many 25-year-old reporters and producers seizing on every odd comment to set off little blog scandals.

McCain started out with the same sort of improvised campaign events he’d used his entire career, in which he’d begin by riffing off of whatever stories were in the paper that day. It didn’t work. The campaign lacked focus. No message was consistent enough to penetrate through the national clutter.

McCain started his general-election campaign in poverty-stricken areas of the South and Midwest. He went through towns where most Republicans fear to tread and said things most wouldn’t say. It didn’t work. The poverty tour got very little coverage on the network news. McCain and his advisers realized the only way they could get TV attention was by talking about the subject that interested reporters most: Barack Obama.

Blogtopia response, via Blogrunner and Memeorandum:

  • Hilzoy: “You would have no choice only if you assumed that your own ambitions were more important than your honor.”
  • Kevin Drum: “… Bloggers are somehow responsible for McCain running juvenile ads comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears? A bored press is responsible for McCain claiming that Obama puts personal interest ahead of country? The conservative establishment prevented McCain from calling out Jerome Corsi’s book for the vile trash that it is? The system forced McCain to hire one of Karl Rove’s disciples as his campaign manager?Enough. Just enough. There are plenty of ways of getting attention, and McCain made his own choices. No one forced them on him, not the system, not bloggers, not the press. If McCain is running a campaign based on personal destruction, he’s doing it because that’s the choice he made. Less passive voice, please.”
  • Greg Sargent: “Brooks, of course, never bothers actually talking about McCain’s negative campaigning with any specificity, and needless to say, he certainly never gets around to passing judgment on his tactics. Because in the narrative Brooks — and certain select other pundits — have built, McCain is exonerated in advance for any and every political tactic he employs, because he supposedly never wanted to do it in the first place. But Brooks adds a new twist to this narrative: ‘The man who hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans now attacks Obama daily,’ he writes. ‘It is the only way he can get the networks to pay attention.’ “
  • Mark Kleiman: David Brooks ” ‘refers to the pre-campaign McCain’s “frantic and freewheeling style, which was unpredictable, untamed and, at some level, unprofessional.’ In other words, erratic. Between Obama and McCain. who is the responsible adult? Who is prepared to lead?”
  • Steve M.: “Have you ever wondered why they pay David Brooks the big bucks? I’ll explain. You see, anyone can argue that John McCain is so pure and virtuous that he had to be forced into running a campaign consisting almost exclusively of vicious negative attacks …… and anyone can argue that longtime media darling McCain is actually the victim of liberal media bias …… but it takes a special talent — a David Brooks — to argue that pure, virtuous McCain was forced to run a negative campaign because of liberal media bias. That’s just brilliant. That’s advancing two memes at once!”
  • John Cole: “And don’t you dare wonder why we should vote to give this guy control of the country when he can’t even control the direction of his campaign.”

Needless to say, there are some bloggers who agree that the media is forcing John McCain to do things he doesn’t want to do:

… There is no doubt that the candidate is less like the un-edited McCain of old (I can’t remember the last time he was on a blogger call, for example) — but he is finally winning. As a writer, I personally wish McCain would get back on the phone, but I must confess that if I were advising him, I’d tell him to do precisely what Schmidt is telling him to do.

And as Brooks points out, the change in style has less to do with McCain’s desire to run this sort of campaign than it does with the realization that — in this media environment — the old McCain style couldn’t win. As they say, McCain didn’t write the rules, he just abides by them. So I suppose we should refuse to be player-haters and get used to it …

Just what we need in the 21st century: a president who is a pawn on a chess board.

4 Responses to “David Brooks: The Media Is Responsible for McCain’s Negative Campaign”

  1. roschelle says:

    like i said in a post a couple of weeks ago…mccain and the republican party are utilizing the words of the great Malcolm X….”by any means necessary”….


  2. Chief says:

    The media, unfortunately, does not hire intelligent people and the American public cannot-tell-the-difference.

  3. scorch and burn GOP as usual

  4. tas says:

    You know, I recall that David Brooks himself couldn’t stop raving about McCain’s prolific “poverty tour” when it happened… Errr, what a second, he didn’t! McCain, being the king of timing that he is, did his poverty tour near the end of April — in the midst of the hottest times during the Obama/Clinton primary battle. Being a historically unprecedented contest, no wonder the press paid attention to it. For Brooks’ part in bringing media attention to McCain’s fearless campaign, his first column during the week of McCain’s “poverty tour” was all about Obama. Gee, didn’t Brooks just criticize the media’s fascination with Obama? And his second column doesn’t even mention McCain.

    What a dishonest [insert whatever insult you want here].

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