The News That Was Almost Shut Out

There’s a variation of it in every high-tech action-adventure movie – the hero, against all odds, has made his way to where the very bad thing is. Oh, it may be a nuclear bomb about to blow up New York or Fort Knox, or that Goldeneye thing, or a death ray from outer space that will turn everyone on earth into small monkeys (really) – but it is a truly bad thing, and our hero, perhaps James Bond, is about to disarm it. There’s the button to push, or the wire to snip – right there. But then, suddenly, there’s the bad guy with a big gun and a smirk on his face, oozing smug contempt, telling our hero to step back – his nefarious plot to take over the world is, you see, going to succeed, and all our hero’s heroics have clearly been in vain. The bad guy is cool, and in control. Step back from that console, Mister Bond – that sort of thing.

 

Bond, or whomever, steps back, of course – things will work out. They always do. Movies are like that. That’s why we pay to see them, or we don’t – that sort of depends on your view of how things work in this world, or how you’d like them to work.

 

So, that’s how it was for some of us on Tuesday, September 23 – time to step back and wait for things to work out. Most of the news of that day concerned with the seven hundred billion dollar mother of all bailouts that was being discussed in senate hearings – but nothing was decided, in spite of the White House sending Dick Cheney to the Hill to twist arms (the House Republicans told him to stuff it) – and the stock markets tanked again, and whether or not this was passed immediately would be left for another day. In the James Bond canon this was Die Another Day. If this thing is not approved we may very well enter something worse than the Great Depression, and soon. But nothing happened, really – and far too much was said. If we were going to all die, or something, it would be another day.

 

It was time to step back. Things will work out, or they won’t – and anyway, other things were happening. There was the presidential race. Oddly, it was the secondary story on all the newscasts – discussion of how each candidate was handling the biggest crisis since 9/11 – and one of greater magnitude, actually, as we’re talking about the world’s economy collapsing. But neither candidate was handling it – neither was president just yet. It was not their job. But it one day might be, so the discussion concerned the hypothetical – general principles, the past statements and actions on intervention and regulation, their current statements, and that grace-under-pressure stuff.

 

But take one more step back and you’d see things were really heating up:

 

Residents in one New Jersey town are disturbed after receiving fliers over the weekend that question Barack Obama’s candidacy on racial grounds.


Roxbury resident Elizabeth Corsetto says a flier was left in her driveway asking, “Do You Want a Black President?” and showing a doctored photo of Obama with a long beard and turban.

 

Roxbury Police Chief Mark Noll says the fliers were left on various streets in the northwestern New Jersey township by a white supremacist group called the League of American Patriots.

 

Oh sure, it’s always fun to make fun of New Jersey, but see this video – on Friday, Fernando C. de Baca, chairman of Bernalillo County Republicans in New Mexico, explained why John McCain will carry that state:

 

The truth is that Hispanics came here as conquerors. African-Americans came here as slaves. Hispanics consider themselves above blacks. They won’t vote for a black president.

 

Well, that’s a theory. It caused what Think Progress called a firestorm of intense criticism – even from Republicans. And the McCain campaign said that the remarks were “extremely offensive and insulting.”

 

But there you have it – there’s no end to the nonsense out there.

 

But then, something bigger was afoot – the Republican intelligentsia, what’s left of it, was turning on John McCain, as McCain hadn’t been very good on the financial meltdown that might end life as we know it. And they were turning on him with a vengeance. Specifically, in the Washington Post, there was George F. Will:

 

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

 

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated.

 

No one probably got the Alice in Wonderland allusion, but Will has it out for McCain and all the Bush Republicans:

 

The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics.

 

Today, the efficient means to that end is government control of capital. So, is not McCain’s party now conducting the most leftist administration in American history? The New Deal never acted so precipitously on such a scale. Treasury Secretary Paulson, asked about conservative complaints that his rescue program amounts to socialism, said, essentially: This is not socialism, this is necessary. That non sequitur might be politically necessary, but remember that government control of capital is government control of capitalism.

 

So, he’s a free-market purist, and you’d expect this. But no one expected the last two paragraphs:

 

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

 

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

 

This is bad news for McCain – all he’ll have left on his side are those smitten with the Moose Lady from Alaska. He has come off as a bit of a jerk, and age really is an issue here – he’s been acting like an impulsive adolescent, striking out at this and that and not thinking a whole lot.

 

Andrew Sullivan also adds this:

 

We forget that McCain has no executive experience, just as Obama has no executive experience. But in terms of judgment, of selection of a running mate, of calm in crisis, of a smooth operation, it is McCain who is revealing his total inexperience and unreadiness for the job, not Obama. In fact, there is no comparison. One campaign is chaotic, secretive, impulsive, unpredictable and losing. The other is supremely well-run, as transparent as a campaign can be, unflappable, very predictable, and winning. I know which man I’d prefer to be running the country in a crisis. Not hotheaded, mercurial, impulsive, gambling McCain.

 

And there is some trouble with the Moose Lady from Alaska, as the Washington Post is more than miffed:

 

John McCain selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate 23 days ago. Since then, Ms. Palin has not held a single news conference with the national media…. Meanwhile, Mr. McCain, who once referred to the media as his base, has himself become inaccessible. He promised to hold weekly news conferences as president but has not held a news conference as a candidate in more than a month. A candidate who stiffs the media on the campaign trail isn’t likely to perform better once in office.

 

This is very odd, and can they really run things this way – saying anyone asking questions of the Moose Lady from Alaska is not showing sufficient respect, and keeping McCain himself away from questions? It seems unlikely the press will buy into that, in spite of McCain’s Steve Schmidt railing about how unfair everyone in the media is being to the two of them – running the wrong stories, even if they’re true.

 

It’s all very odd. Click on the link – and in the end the reporters listened to Schmidt and decided he was beyond unhinged. But you see how the McCain campaign has set this up – everyone already knows all they need to know, and since McCain is an incomprehensibly trustworthy war hero, and a lovable maverick, and Sarah Palin just what she seems, and the press is somewhere between useless and subversive troublemakers, any questions are just smug and presumptuous, if not un-American or something. That may play well with the public. That’s the bet.

 

But all these long years of McCain cultivating the national press – what he has called his real base – is something you might not want to throw away. The press can be mean, and dangerous.

 

This all came to a head when Sarah Palin made her trip to the United Nations on Tuesday, September 23 – a chance to chat with a few world leaders, and Henry Kissinger, so in the upcoming debate she could say she knows just as much as Joe Biden does about everything, or something. It was a bit of a charade, but a necessary charade.

 

And it should have gone well – the talks would be private, after the obligatory photo op – what they call a photo spray. Space was limited and CNN drew pool duty. CNN would do the video feed for all the networks, and their producer would take notes – who was in the room and who was wearing what – stuff that could be used by everyone in their copy. No big deal, until it turned into a big deal:

 

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who has not held a press conference in nearly four weeks of campaigning, on Tuesday banned reporters from her first meetings with world leaders, allowing access only to photographers and a television crew.

 

CNN, which was providing the television coverage for news organizations, decided to pull its TV crew, effectively denying Palin the high visibility she had sought.

 

You just don’t shut out the press. See Michael Calderone here:

 

I’ve now heard that as a result of protests from the press, a TV producer was eventually permitted into the first meeting, but no print reporter. At the two subsequent meetings, there will be both TV and print pool reporters on hand.

 

The McCain folks backed down – said it was all a bit of a miscommunication, and laughed it off. But the damage was done, even if the eventual pool reports were boring and harmless. There was talk of a full press boycott – why even bother to cover these clowns? You want to lock us out? Fine – we’re out of here.

 

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, and part of the team that founded CNN and for years handled their satellite operation – and a frequent commentator here – explains what was really going on:

 

Not to take credit away from CNN, but when a source lays down rules to the networks prohibiting an editorial presence in a photo op, the networks – which includes all three broadcast nets, plus CNN and Fox News – get together and vote on it. CNN happened to be the net in pool rotation for this event, so they would probably have been the one to inform the campaign that the network pool would not accept the restrictions. So when McCain-Palin backed down, it was the CNN crew that went in, and as is customary, it was CNN’s responsibility to write a pool report to the other members.

 

In my experience and knowledge, this particular argument has come up often. Although I’m not in a position to verify this, I’m pretty sure it happens more with the Republicans than it does with the Democrats, for some reason.

 

I do wonder how Fox voted in the pool tally – but my guess, despite what many might assume, is that the pool vote was unanimous.

 

It probably was unanimous. It was absurd. And to the larger point, see Andrew Sullivan:

 

The press is beginning to resist the incredibly sexist handling of Palin by the McCain campaign. There is a simple point here: any candidate for president should be as available to press inquiries as humanly possible. Barring a press conference for three weeks, preventing any questions apart from two television interviews, one by manic partisan Sean Hannity, devising less onerous debate rules for a female candidate, and then trying to turn the press into an infomercial for the GOP is beyond disgraceful.

 

Fight back, you hacks! Demand access. Demand accountability! It’s our duty. If we cannot ask questions of a total newbie six weeks before an election in which she could become president of the country, then the First Amendment is pointless. Grow some!

 

Don’t worry. They are growing some, if only out of self-interest – a need for copy.

 

As for whether the press is being unfair, see Jack Shafer in Slate with McCain Bites the Press, arguing that “just because the press loves Obama doesn’t mean it hates McCain.”

 

That opens with this:

 

Yesterday, the McCain campaign pilloried the New York Times in a conference call with the press. Senior adviser Steve Schmidt, taking offense at a Times piece that scrutinized McCain’s campaign manager, bawled:

 

“Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization. It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization that every day attacks the McCain campaign, attacks Sen. McCain, attacks Gov. Palin and excuses Sen. Obama.”

 

Schmidt continued:

 

“This is an organization that is completely, totally 150 percent in the tank for the Democratic candidate. … Everything that is read in the New York Times that attacks this campaign should be evaluated by the American people from that perspective, that it is an organization that has made a decision to cast aside its journalistic integrity and tradition to advocate for the defeat of one candidate, in this case, John McCain, and advocate for the election for the other candidate, Barack Obama.”

 

Shafer links to the Times defending itself – the Times Executive Editor Bill Keller saying that the paper has covered both candidates “fully, fairly, and aggressively.” And he cites Washington Post columnist E .J. Dionne Jr. here saying that the McCain campaign was trying to “intimidate and discredit those who try to give an honest account of the campaign.” And there’s New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen here saying that if the McCain campaign regards the Times a “political action committee working for Obama … then why does the Times have to treat the McCain crew as a ‘normal’ campaign organization, rather than a bunch of rogue operators willing to say absolutely anything to gain power and lie to the nation once in office?” So this amounts to a declaration of war against the press, or something.

 

The rest is a call for everyone to calm down – Step back from that keyboard, Mister Bond. These things ebb and flow – “Jeesh! Have we really gotten to the point at which a presidential campaign operative can’t throw a bag of rotten, wormy peaches at the press without getting a load of grief in return?”

 

The press does what it does – reasonably well – and campaigns always complain. Nothing to see here, folks – move along.

 

But something is going on. With the economic apocalypse looming, many missed this small item:

 

At the insistence of the McCain campaign, the Oct. 2 debate between the Republican nominee for vice president, Gov. Sarah Palin, and her Democratic rival, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., will have shorter question-and-answer segments than those for the presidential nominees, the advisers said. There will also be much less opportunity for free-wheeling, direct exchanges between the running mates.

 

McCain advisers said they had been concerned that a loose format could leave Ms. Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, at a disadvantage and largely on the defensive.

 

Andrew Sullivan again:

 

Are you fucking kidding me? We are now rigging the debate formats to compensate for a know-nothing, mendacious Manchurian candidate drilled in meaningless talking points? And the Obama team agreed to this? And so did the press?

 

Yes, they did. And you can see why the McCain folks insisted on the format change. There might be an odd, off-topic question about her religion, and that could be trouble, as Sam Harris explains:

 

Palin’s spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of “the final generation,” engaged in “spiritual warfare” to purge the earth of “demonic strongholds.” Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: “All options remain on the table?”

 

Yeah – possible trouble there. We don’t want to know.

 

And we don’t want to know about Sarah Palin’s ongoing “Troopergate” scandal. But then, as CNN reported – “Palin ‘ready to cooperate’ in firing probe, lawyer says.”

 

So that’s over – she’ll explain about firing the head of the state police because he wouldn’t fire the trooper who wronged her sister and wanted custody of the kids?

 

Well, maybe, but see Steve Benen:

 

Sounds great, right? Palin, after initially vowing her full cooperation with an independent investigation launched by the Alaskan legislature, has since decided to stonewall and obstruct the process. If the governor is now “ready to cooperate,” that’s a rather dramatic and unexpected change of heart.

 

Except, the headline isn’t helpful. Palin isn’t “ready to cooperate” with the Troopergate probe; she’s “ready to cooperate” with a different Troopergate probe.

 

Benen cites the AP story on this change of heart:

 

Less than a week after balking at the Alaska Legislature’s investigation into her alleged abuse of power, Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday indicated she will cooperate with a separate probe run by people she can fire.

 

An attorney for the GOP vice presidential nominee met with an investigator for the state Personnel Board to discuss sharing documents and schedule witness interviews, McCain spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said.

 

Benen:

 

So, Palin vowed to cooperate with the legislature’s investigation. Then she decided she wanted to be the vice president, broke her word, and decided to stonewall. As an alternative, though, Palin is perfectly content to cooperate with a parallel investigation from the state personnel board – every member of which just happens to serve at the will of the governor.

 

Palin refuses to cooperate with the actual probe, and her husband and aides have decided to blow off legislative subpoenas, but anything the state personnel board asks for, her lawyer said, the state personnel board will get.

 

“Ready to cooperate”? That’s not quite how I would have put it.

 

Maybe the AP is fed up and fighting back. At the New Republic, Eve Fairbanks, here says that the Associated Press “took the prize today for the most dryly contemptuous lead sentence I’ve read in a political news story in a while” – “Less than a week after balking at the Alaska Legislature’s investigation into her alleged abuse of power, Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday indicated she will cooperate with a separate probe run by people she can fire.”

 

Indeed, that wasn’t very nice. The press can be dangerous when you jerk them around too much, and Fairbanks cites Jay Rosen asking an interesting question – “At what point does an extreme attempt to de-legitimate the press actually de-legitimate the candidate … in the eyes of the press?”

 

And the local press gets it. See the Juneau Empire:

 

The presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin has taken effective charge of the Alaska state government’s response to the legislative investigation into abuse of power allegations against Palin. An investigation that began on a bipartisan basis with several pledges from Palin to participate, is now being manipulated to protect Palin by campaign attorneys who appear to be directing the Palin administration’s response, top legislators say.

 

Run a scam, the press might give you a pass, if you’ve been nice – granted interviews, given access. Not now.

 

See Jeffery Goldberg here:

 

If Sarah Palin becomes vice president, she will presumably have meetings with people who are scarier than Michael Cooper, the Times reporter who seems to have the misfortune of covering her today. I know Michael Cooper; he’s a good reporter, but not very mean at all. So why would the McCain campaign want to keep him – and other print reporters – from watching Sarah Palin shake hands with Hamid Karzai, who is also, by the way, a very nice person? What will happen, God forbid, if Sarah Palin is forced into a position where she will have to meet someone who is not so nice? Such as, say, the prime minister of Spain?

 

That’s just nasty – referring back to this McCain gaffe.

 

And there’s Ross Douthat, author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream – a thoughtful guy, trying to fix what’s wrong on the right. But he has had enough – she is not even as competent as Mike Huckabee:

 

…the fact remains that she has given one fine speech, and two lackluster interviews, and has otherwise dodged the sort of rough-and-tumble venues and conversations that Huckabee welcomed, and which he used to make his candidacy for president seem more plausible than it initially appeared. Palin needs to at least approach the standard Huckabee set; she hasn’t yet; and that failure is showing up in her approval ratings. There’s still time for her to turn it around, and as you might expect, I’m pulling for her to do it. But at this point, there’s an awful lot riding on that one vice-presidential debate.

 

Sullivan:

 

After three weeks, no press conference and two measly interviews, one of which might as well have been an infomercial. Why should anyone wish such a person success? She’s a joke.

 

The whole thing is a joke, and many wonder, on another matter, just what the McCain campaign was thinking:

 

The lobbying firm of the man Republicans say John McCain has chosen to begin planning a presidential transition earned more than a quarter of a million dollars this year representing Freddie Mac, one of the companies McCain blames for the nation’s financial crisis.

 

Timmons & Co., whose founder and chairman emeritus is William Timmons Sr., was registered to lobby for Freddie Mac from 2000 through this month, when the federal government took over both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

 

Newly available congressional records show Timmons’s firm received $260,000 this year before its lobbying activities were barred under terms of the government rescue of the failed mortgage giant. Timmons, 77, is listed as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac on the company’s midyear financial-disclosure form.

 

Steve Benen explains the problem:

 

John McCain personally spent most of last week railing against Barack Obama’s associations with former Fannie Mae officials were extremely important, worthy of attack ads and overheated speeches. At one point, about a week ago, McCain told CBS, “[T]he influence that Fannie and Freddie had in the inside-the-beltway, old-boy network, which led to this kind of corruption is unacceptable.” Soon after, he told a Wisconsin audience, “At the center of the problem were the lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats who succeeded in persuading Congress and the administration to ignore the festering problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

 

This, after McCain had tapped Freddie Mac’s lobbyist to head his presidential transition team? And after he tapped a former Fannie Mae lobbyist as his campaign manager? Seriously?

 

By this standard, McCain probably should feel compelled to vote against himself.

 

He notes that Josh Marshall concluded this – “I expect a lot of hypocrisy of all politicians, of both parties. But John McCain is really in a class of his own.”

 

Will the press go along with all this? They may go with it now. Or with the late-breaking news of the same day:

 

One of the giant mortgage companies [Freddie Mac] at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month from the end of 2005 through last month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain’s campaign manager, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement. The disclosure undercuts a statement by Mr. McCain on Sunday night that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had had no involvement with the company for the last several years.

 

See? There’s lots more going on than the chat as we decide what we can do about the coming economic Armageddon! Step back – that’ll work out.

 

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Ask No Questions, Blaming the Press, Congressional Hearings, De-legitimizing the Press, Demanding Deference, Economic Meltdown, Financial Meltdown, George F. Will, McCain and the Press, McCain versus the NY Times, McCain's Lobbyists, McCain: Hot-Head, Obama as the Grown-Up, Palin at the UN, Palin Under Wraps, Palin Unqualified, Palin's Church, Press Bias, Sarah Palin, Shutting Out the Press, Troopergate. Bookmark the permalink.

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