How The Media Works 101: Can’t Walk and Chew Gum, with Professors Chris Matthews and Tim Russert (and input from grad students/T.A.s Rachel Maddow and Dan Abrams) on MSNBC last night.

MATTHEWS: Do you think [Democrats worrying about the effects of ongoing primary] are aware of the way the media works? I was explaining this to a group of students the other night: As long as we focus on the the fight between Hillary and Barack, perhaps recently just on Barack’s problems, it blocks the sun from the problems that are incipient and coming to be with McCain —his problem with the war, his problem with the economy…The more we focus on the Jeremiah Wright story, the less we focus on Hillary’s problem with candor and the more we completely ignore John McCain’s problems. Do you think the Democratic war horses know as long as there’s a fire going on in one of those rings, the Barack Obama ring, we will not focus as much on John McCain’s weaknesses?

RUSSERT: Yes. They believed initially ignoring the McCain campaign was beneficial and helpful to the Democrats. But as this is has gone on, they see in their minds —we get flooded with e-mails, Senator McCain making a mistake on Shia versus Sunni, making mistake on the first Persian Gulf War and the second vis-a-vis oil, and his own relationship with Pastor Hagee and why isn’t that talked about and reported on the way Reverend Wright’s relationship with Senator Obama is talked about.


But all of that in time. It is only May. This has been going on for some time but it will be a long, long campaign. When Senator McCain is back in the media’s light, he’ll receive the same kind of scrutiny.

We’ll stop ignoring McCain’s mistakes when we start focusing on McCain’s mistakes! A little patience, please.

A similar topic popped up later in MSNBC’s primary coverage last night (hour seven?) as Rachel Maddow and Dan Abrams chatted about those exit polls in which some Clinton voters tell pollsters they’ll vote for McCain or stay home in November.

MADDOW: John McCain is an attractive candidate to a lot of people who identify as moderate voters — at least he is now with the way the media treats him. If he gets redefined by a strong Democratic opponent and by a hungry press, then he won’t be as attractive. But right now with the brand he brings from 25 years of being essentially tongue-bathed by the press and being called a maverick, then he does have a lot of appeal.

ABRAMS: I agree with you about the media coverage of John McCain. That’s why we have a segment on The Verdict called “Teflon John” which relates to the fact that the media seems to love him….


MADDOW: But everyone else hasn’t made that pivot yet even though you have.


ABRAMS: I don’t mean to sit here and say, “We’re so great,” it’s just that the bottom line has been that the Democrats have been going after each other every night and we cover each and every one of those battles and when it comes to McCain, we don’t seem to cover it. Yet.

So. Watch your back, Sen. McCain. Consider yourself warned. The Way the Media Works is: we may be distracted at the moment but we will shine our disinfecting light on you just as soon as—

Breaking News: Hillary Clinton loaned her campaign $6.4 million over the past month!

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.