Michael Goldfarb was the McCain campaign’s deputy communications director-cum-media bodyguard, tasked by McCain’s high command with bullying the press into covering things the “right” way. It’s a role Goldfarb, a reporter and blogger himself, played with gusto—so much so that he generated controversy and became part of the storyline himself on occasion.
Now back at The Weekly Standard, he talked to Kate Klonick about the campaign’s flirtation with punishing The New York Times, the decision to pick Sarah Palin, and that memorable interview on CNN.
Kate Klonick: You spent the last six months as the official campaign blogger for the McCain campaign, taking leave from your position as Web editor at The Weekly Standard. What were you expecting when you made the switch?
Michael Goldfarb: [The McCain campaign] assured me that they were looking for someone to attack the press. And that struck me as a really bad idea, but when a presidential campaign calls up and offers you a job you take it. I didn’t think they’d follow through on the claim the way they promised, and I expected to be reined in pretty quickly—end up working on statements and the like. I didn’t expect to have free reign to do what I wanted
Occasionally they would task me with something and I wouldn’t get to follow through. Like they were going to throw The New York Times off the plane, I wrote the memo explaining that [decision], and then they changed their minds. But day to day, in terms of picking lines of attack, I was giving a great deal of latitude. I was working with other communication guys—but there was a tremendous amount of latitude and that persisted well beyond the convention, which was surprising. I thought they’d end the blog after the convention. But it wasn’t until about three weeks out from the election that I basically stopped blogging, because I decided it wasn’t prudent to keep it going. There were other outlets for that. I decided to work on statements, and the blog just became a little bit risky because it didn’t have to go through the normal channels. It left the campaign exposed and it left me exposed.
KK: Were you looking ahead to a possible McCain victory, and the possibility of joining his administration? Or did you not let yourself go there?
MG: I thought from the beginning that we would lose. I’m not a lunatic, the odds were always stacked against McCain. But there were a couple weeks there after the convention where [winning] looked like a possibility. People, for the first time, let themselves think that maybe it was possible that we could win. But then the markets collapsed, and everyone sobered up and realized it was an incredible longshot. But you don’t do that because you think you’re going to get some cushy job after. As a journalist you want the opportunity to see it from the inside out, and you have a candidate you really like, admire, and respect. You saw it with Linda Douglas and Jay Carney—there’s no expectation that a journalist who gets that opportunity is going to pass it up. It’s too interesting.
You see journalists from the other side, which is one of the most shocking things. You’re the one giving things to the journalists, so you know when something is going to come out and where they’re getting their info and when they’re making it up.
KK: You were a long time proponent of McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his VP pick. Seeing how everything played out, do you still think she was the right choice?
MG: It’s unbelievable the way the media has covered this and the way the media has been played—which is partly from the bullshit inside the campaign. When you have The New Yorker write a story about how Sarah Palin was selected… well, that was like Jane Goodall going in and writing about fucking apes mating in the jungle—they don’t know what’s going on. They’re writing from another planet. I like Sarah Palin, I think she was a very attractive candidate, but I think she made a lot of mistakes. But so did Biden.
I am not convinced that Sarah Palin hurt the campaign. People think that this decision was made in some kind of vacuum. I’m not convinced that a McCain/Romney ticket would have outperformed a McCain/Palin. Well, maybe if we’d done Lieberman we would have been down fifteen points after the convention instead of up four. I’m not convinced that Palin, even with all her weaknesses, wasn’t the most plausible ticket you could have put forward this year.
KK: What about all the talk about the acrimony between the McCain/Palin camps behind the scenes? What was the story with that?