Battle of the Media Darling(est)?

Newspaper, TV on the wall, who’s the media darling(est) of them all? McCain? Obama? (Ron Paul, you say?)

A first exchange, perhaps, in the inevitable battle of The Media Loves Your Candidate More— Here’s Proof!

Newsweek this week published a friendly sort of cover story about Obama (Headline and sub-hed: “Sit Back, Relax, Get Ready to Rumble; He’s taken everything in stride, it seems. How Obama and his team will battle the GOP onslaught.”)

McCain adviser Mark Salter promptly emailed Newsweek editor Jon Meacham a lengthy response to the article arguing, in part:

By accepting the Obama campaign construct as if it were objective, [reporters] Evan [Thomas] and Richard [Wolffe] framed this race exactly as Senator Obama wants it to be framed—every issue that raises doubts about his policy views and judgment is part of a smear campaign intended to distract voters from the real issues at stake in the election, and, thus, illegitimate. And even if Senator McCain might not be inclined to support such [527] advertising, if he can’t stop them from occurring then he will have succumbed to the temptation to put ambition before principle.


The McCain campaign will keep to the high standards of political debate Senator McCain demands of us… We won’t, however, abide by rules imposed on us by our opponents, and which pertain only to our campaign and not theirs, even if they manage to get reporters to call the deal fair.

Salter also points to the very different ways that McCain’s and Obama’s strategists are described in the piece.

Evan and Richard noted, ominously, that our campaign includes Steve Schmidt and Charlie Black, characterizing them basically as noted Republican attack specialists. The Obama senior staffers were described as idealists and decent sorts, and jujitsu experts who could use Republican Party smears and deceitful tactics against their authors.

Salter’s case , if overstated, is not without merit. Take this bit:

“Team Obama has been consistently able to outstrategize the opposition, and it does have a plan for the coming mud war,” write Wolffe and Thomas. “In conversations with Newsweek Obama’s aides have signaled their intention to put McCain on the spot.”

So: the Obama campaign is bracing itself for the oncoming GOP mud war and has plans to— no, not counter-attack or even bear fruit from (and responsibility for) the mud-slinging done on its behalf by assorted outside groups, as the reporters indicate the McCain camp will — but to “put McCain on the spot.” How delicate and innocuous-sounding!

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.