Oct 2, 2008

Blame my car stereo [LINK]

The tape deck in my car no longer works, and I can't listen to my iPod though the cassette adapter, so lately I've been listening to a bit of NPR on the way home from work. And in the middle of their fall fund drive, no less! Granted, I know enough to switch stations whenever Daniel Schorr comes on, but still it sometimes gets so bad I really ought to pull over. Here's my response:

I have often admired David Folkenflik's work on the media beat, but I was greatly irritated by yesterday's piece on the McCain campaign's souring relations with the media, particularly the New York Times.

Folkenflik expresses astonishment at the McCain campaign's scathing dismissal of the Times -- that it's no longer "a journalistic organization," in the words of one of his campaign managers -- but does nothing to evaluate the substance of the campaign's complaints.

Instead, we are treated to the opinion of one journalist who says the dispute is "not really intended to debate the merits of the stories," but rather to excite the conservative base. The same journalist says the "people in the McCain campaign making those charges" probably don't even "believe their own rhetoric." The same journalist, apparently a reliable font of truth, is also quoted in the web version of the report as saying that McCain's attack will likely be counterproductive to his campaign. That's a fine opinion, to be sure, but again having nothing to do with the substance of McCain's complaint.

Folkenflik doesn't solicit a statement from the McCain campaign on the dispute -- not even a "we tried to call them." However, we do hear from the Times's political editor, Richard Stevenson, who said: "No one has disputed the facts that we have reported about [McCain campaign manager] Rick Davis' involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." Folkenflik should not have let this statement stand unchallenged. It took me about a minute to find McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb's categorical denial (in 'A Partisan Paper of Record') that Davis recently received payments from Freddie Mac, allegations based on anonymous sources that the Times trumpeted in their lede. So yes, someone has disputed their reporting of the facts.

My favorite part of Folkenflik's report is where a former McCain aide expresses puzzlement at her former boss's sudden hostility to the press, given their formerly cozy relations. What a mystery! Of course, the reason should be obvious: McCain used to run along the margins of the GOP, and could often be counted on for a few subversive quips, but now he is the standard-bearer. How long was it after McCain's emergence as front-runner before the Times published that disgraceful piece insinuating, again based on anonymous sources, that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist?

Folkenflik should take the McCain campaign's allegations of bias seriously. I'm afraid what I heard instead was a circling of the wagons from someone who identifies far too much with the media to be able to cover it effectively. What else explains such an overwrought conclusion that McCain's "campaign appears to be challenging the media's right to be seen as a referee at all?"

The media's "right"? Anyone who has dealt with an unreliable service provider should bristle at the notion that the media has a "right" to its legitimacy.

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