Sen. John McCain, the candidate who typically speaks his “straight talk” on the record, urged reporters to tuck their notebooks away on Sunday during a cookout for the campaign press at his vacation home in Page Springs, Arizona. Or at least to shelve any questions of import. As The Austin American Statesman’s Ken Herman put it: “The event was on the record, but the ground rules precluded political talk in favor of recipes and a brief tour of the land that could become the next Western White House.”

Such ground rules must go down easier with a tour of the grounds and a plateful of McCain-made ribs. (While, apparently, “objectivity prohibits a good reporter” like Reuters’ Jeff Mason from telling readers how tasty McCain’s ribs were, CBS’s Dante Higgins “is confident in reporting they were succulent and flavorful”).

In return for dropping “political talk,” reporters got their candidate-cooked meal. And a tire swing. And Frank Sinatra tunes on the deck.

And McCain, in return, got press coverage depicting a relaxed, confident, regular-like-you-and-me-but-also-very-much-in-charge guy holding court at what could well be, as so many reporters noted, the future Western White House. (Could rib-grilling be the new brush-clearing? Just as manly - and sticks to reporters’ ribs!)

Per CNN: “No news, just ribs at McCain barbeque.”

But of course that was the news. And it was hand-fed to reporters.

Newsweek’s Holly Bailey, in a piece sub-headlined, “McCain Works His ‘Base’ at a Barbecue,” mused:

There are worse ways to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon than swinging lazily back and forth on a tire swing strung up under a massive sycamore tree in a quiet Arizona canyon, the sound of a gushing stream nearby. Almost grazing the ground and hung on rope that looked to have been tied and retied again over the years, the swing belonged to John McCain, who stood several dozen yards away, carefully monitoring giant slabs of pork ribs on a smoking grill. It was an idyllic scene, and one that might have made the Democratic contenders envious.

Not to mention the reporters covering the Democratic contenders.

Where was Dana Milbank’s send-up of this “idyllic scene”?

The Washington Post flooded the zone for the BBQ-with reports on page A9 and C1 - but, alas, neither from Milbank.

There was this just-wait-til-Wednesday warning at the end of Michael D. Shear’s Post piece: “The lighthearted mood is likely to fade quickly if [McCain] gets enough delegates to lay claim to his party’s nomination in contests in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday. As the nominee, he will almost certainly be on, rather than overseeing, the grill.

And who will be “overseeing” that “grill?” These same rib-stained reporters?


Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.