Chuck Todd, appearing on today’s Morning Joe, agreed:
I think the McCain campaign is laughing—laughing their butts off this morning that any of us have taken the bait on this lipstick thing. I mean, this is a joke. It is laughable, and you know, look, our mutual friend, [MSNBC executive producer] Chris Licht, and I were having an off-air debate about whether we should be airing the Web ad, because it’s such a faux controversy. It’s made up out of whole cloth by the McCain campaign. Hey, look, this is what they’re good at. They’re good at winning these news cycles, and they have beaten the Obama campaign on these little—what I call—sort of shiny metal object days, right? They’re able to say, “Oh, look!, shiny metal object.”
But perhaps we have, here, a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. As Liz noted, as of noon today—only four hours after Todd made that statement—MSNBC had made thirty-five references to LipstickOnAPigGate. The scuffle had been referenced twenty-eight times on CNN and forty-eight times on Fox. It’s made the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. As happens so often when it comes to The Coverage of Inanity in Presidential Campaigns, there seems to be a convenient disconnect between Id and Superego when it comes to the minds of the media.
It was, appropriately enough, Jane Swift who spearheaded the he-called-Palin-a-pig accusations on behalf of the McCain campaign. “Senator Obama uttered what I can only describe to be disgusting comments, comparing our vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, to a pig,” the former Massachusetts governor—and newly designated chair of the “Palin Truth Squad”—declared in a conference call with reporters.
The McCain campaign followed that up with a Web ad, released today, that reiterates the Obama-called-Palin-a-Pig mythology and says of Obama: “Ready to lead? No. Ready to smear? Yes.”
The Obama campaign is, of course, fighting back. “What their campaign has done this morning is the same game that has made people sick and tired of politics in this country,” Obama said. “They seize on an innocent remark, try to take it out of context, throw up an outrageous ad because they know that it’s catnip for the news media.”
But what Obama himself says matters little at this point. Audiences—also known as voters—have gotten too accustomed to campaigns’ back-and-forth, to all the vitriolic he-said-she-saids, to focus their attention on the details of the accusations the campaigns hurl at each other. What they recognize, rather, is the press’s framing of those accusations, the media’s treatment of the controversies. And the fact that LipstickOnAPigGate is a controversy—indeed, the fact that it’s a narrative in the first place—is the fault of the media. (Where does it end? Obama says he doesn’t play hockey, and Palin’s called herself a hockey mom, and moms are women, therefore Obama’s sexist?) The media, in allowing themselves to be so easily hijacked by campaign spin—we’ll repeat whatever accusations you fling at your opponent, no matter how ridiculous—are not only implying their own irrelevance in this whole campaign. They’re fostering it.
I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig, that Bernard Shaw line goes. You get dirty, and, besides, the pig likes it. One can’t help but wonder: Who’s really being wrestled with here? The McCain campaign may have thrown mud in this case, but it’s the media, after all, who are doing his dirty work.