A maverick, as all of us familiar with the Hollywood West surely know, is unbranded beef on the hoof. By extension, it is a person who resists labeling, an independent, a rebellious soul. (Etymology states that the term comes from Samuel A. Maverick, one of the founders of Texas, who refused to brand his cattle.) American politics now has one maverick-in-chief, John McCain, the Arizona senator currently running for president. David Brock (an ex-conservative and something of a maverick himself) and Paul Waldman (a columnist for The American Prospect) contend that this characterization of McCain has little to do with his scattered breaks from Republican doctrine. Instead, they argue, the pervasive and flattering portrayals of the senator are due to his apparent willingness to treat journalists as buddies, and to say things that sound candid and unscripted. As the presidential campaign progresses, the skeptical are starting to question this cliché, speculating that McCain is closer to a standard-issue Republican. But the references to him as a maverick go on, undiminished and unthinking. Whether the authors are right or wrong about the red-carpet treatment given to the candidate, there is no doubt that journalistic laziness has let the M word become McCain’s very own, let’s say, brand.


James Boylan is CJR’s founding editor.