John McCain gets so much fawning media coverage that it could fill a book. In fact, "Free Ride: John McCain and the Media," analyzes the largely uncritical coverage.
Consider the following:
• "A man of unshakable character, willing to stand up for his convictions. " (R.W. Apple, The New York Times)
• Mr. McCain is running as the blunt anti-politician who won't lie, who won't spin." (Alison Mitchell, The New York Times)
• "While most candidates talk up their chances, McCain engages in anti-spin." (Howard Kutz, The Washington Post)
• "He rises above the pack in admitting it's not all the other party's fault. He's eloquent, as only a prisoner of war can be." (David Nyhan, The Boston Globe)
• "There's something authentic about this man." (Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes)
• "Basically, just a cool dude." (Jake Tapper, Salon.com)
Hillary Clinton's protestations to the contrary, Obama's coverage does not begin to compare to the free ride the media gives John McCain.
David Brock and Paul Waldman, authors of the McCain book, peel the skin off of McCain's carefully cultivated media image, exposing a tempestuous, often mean-spirited man who benefits from his status of a former prisoner of war and unearned reputation as a maverick.
"Over his career, McCain has compiled a record that is far more complex than his media image," the authors write. "The fact of the matter is that John McCain is neither a moderate nor a maverick. McCain's voting record, his ideas, his values, and his rhetoric mark him as a stout conservative – a description that he himself adheres to."
Though not part of the book, the NAACP's Federal Legislative Report Card supports that conclusion. Of the 13 grading periods that McCain has been in the House or Senate, he received what amounts to grade of F for 11 annual sessions, discounting the two in which he ran for president. Of those 11 years, he received a score of 50 one time, 40 another and in the other nine instances, he scored 30 percent or less. In the two years he was campaigning for president – 2000 and 2008 – McCain received an Incomplete, but was well on his way to earning an F.
That's hardly the record of a moderate.
Nor does the record support his reputation as a maverick. According to Congressional Quarterly, McCain voted with Republicans 84.3 percent in the last session of Congress.
McCain's trump card is his image of a war hero. According to the book, he told one interviewer, "One of the things I've never tried to do is exploit my Vietnam service to my country because it would be totally inappropriate to do so."
Yet, McCain's Web site features a moving video about his POW years. And when carpetbagging charges were raised against McCain in Phoenix, he responded: "Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things."
Then he added this zinger: "As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived the longest in my life was Hanoi."
He used similar lines with journalists, saying to the late Tim Russert of Meet the Press, "I hadn't had so much fun since my last interrogation in Hanoi."
Because many reporters are mesmerized by McCain, they are reluctant to point out that he was tied to one of the largest financial scandals in history. McCain was among the senators known as the Keating 5. Charles Keating Jr. was a wealthy Phoenix developer who ran the Lincoln Savings and Loan. After the S&L collapsed, it cost $2.6 billion in taxpayer's funds. McCain and the four others had talked with federal regulators in an effort to get them to go easy on Keatings' S&L.
The book chronicles McCain's famous temper outbursts.
Kathy Dubs, a Republican member of the Phoenix City Council, recalled one 1993 incident with McCain. After questioning McCain's motives for supporting a proposed airport between Phoenix and Tucson, she recalled, "He slammed his fist to the table and stood up and said this meeting is over. Then he pointed his finger at me and started calling me names. His staff was pulling him back, trying to get him to sit down."
Even though he has been dubbed, "Senator Hot Head," reporters still try to put his conduct in a favorable light.
"In other words, McCain isn't angry: he's passionate," the authors said, summarizing the media's attitude toward McCain. "When he blows his lid, it's only because he's standing up for his principles."
Even John McCain can't get mad at that kind of coverage.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach.