February 27, 2008

The McCain Campaign Reality Show

From 1977-1981, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers met three times in the World Series. The Dodgers were the masters of the old style of media handling where arguments within the organization were not leaked to the press, and the organization presented a bland, unified front (unless something completely uncoverupable happened like the 1978 locker room fistfight between stars Steve Garvey and Don Sutton over the old spitballer taunting the handsome firstbaseman over his wife's affair with songwriter Marvin Hamlisch).

In contrast, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, and the other Yankees seemed to hash every disagreement out in the tabloids. As a youth at the time, this always struck me as unseemly, but the Yankees had hit upon the future of entertainment -- taking back office controversies public. By the 1980s, there were top disk jockeys, like Steve Dahl in Chicago, whose act largely consisted of on-air squabbling with station management. By the late 1990s, reality TV shows like Survivor and Big Brother became popular even though they consisted of little besides inside dirt on who was doing down whom.

Leon Hadar points to a Ryan Lizza New Yorker article that makes clear, without quite noticing it, that John McCain enjoys favorable press coverage because he runs his campaign as a sort of private reality show for the reporters important enough to be on the bus covering him:
"It is bracing to drop in on the McCain campaign after covering the overly managed productions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Democratic candidates rarely speak to the travelling press. McCain not only packs his bus with reporters (whom he often greets with an affectionate “Hello, jerks!”) but talks until the room is filled with the awkward silence of journalists with no more questions. ... McCain and his aides openly discuss strategy, whether it’s Brooke Buchanan, McCain’s travelling press secretary, prepping him for a press conference (“ABC might ask about that”) or McCain discussing his targeting strategy for Tampa (“I thought we did a robo-call to tell people about Schwarzkopf”—referring to the endorsement by General Norman Schwarzkopf). ...

McCain’s open-access policy is partly strategic. After all, he is able to hammer talking points like any politician. (It’s not just his jokes that he repeats.) But, by engaging reporters in long, even substantive conversations, he also disarms them. The incentive to ask “gotcha” questions that feed the latest news cycle is greatly reduced, and the hours of exposure to McCain breed a relationship that inclines journalists to be more careful about describing the context of his statements.

This doesn't mean that reporters get anything important out of McCain about what he would actually do as President. He doesn't seem to say anything terribly interesting. He just gossips about horserace politics, like how much he hates Mitt Romney and how much he finds Ron Paul's supporters to be weird, and they find it fascinating.

Strikingly, the top-rated show of the decade, American Idol, follows the old-fashioned Dodger strategy. It completely ignores all the backstage conflicts among the performers and just shows them singing. Similarly, the Obama campaign keeps reporters away from both the candidate, and even his supporters, as much as possible: "The Obama campaign, like the Bush White House, prides itself on message discipline and tracks down leakers with a frightening intensity."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

To be fair Steve, what McCain is doing is difficult. McCain probably has, through a long slog of decades at the public trough and campaigning, an idea within shouting distance of what non-"bubble" people are like. Clinton had that also in 1992, G HW Bush did not. "This is for checking out?" at the Supermarket scanners?

After 8 years in the White House and 8 more years on the Davos and Hollywood party circuit (doubtless picking up chicks), Clinton has lost any idea of what an ordinary person might be like.

For Obama, it's even worse. His time in Indonesia, prep school Paradise in Hawaii, Harvard, racial shakedowns (excuse me "activism") and South Side Chicago ward politics have left him totally unable to connect to Joe Average.

ANY unedited and unscripted exposure to reporters runs a huge risk of the REAL Obama coming through, a mixture of preppy arrogance and privilege worse than GW Bush, and racial grievance of the Affirmative Action privileged. Obama or his handlers are smart enough to know the "real" Obama leaking through even third hand through the Press would be disaster.

McCain's skill is not inconsiderable. Using the Press to symbolize his "Joe Average" pitch to the swing voter.

As for American Idol, it's falling in the ratings. Down this year from previous year which was down from the year before. Still the top rated show but showing signs of weakness.

Like Obama's appeal to women, Blacks, and yuppie status-obsessed, AI appeals to pre-teen girls (the Hannah Montana crowd) and late middle aged hausfraus. No one actually buys the AI contestant records. And all those Sanjayas and Clay Aikens guarantee that straight guys won't go near it. Like Broadway, TV has become a gay and female ghetto.

mnuez said...

It's a "strategy" in the same way as "being nice" and "being honest" are strategies. Although I won't be voting for him, McCain is a breath of fresh air - at least relative to the other major presidential candidates who have been forced upon us these past few decades (at least).

"Gotcha!" life-ruiners are ridiculous. They interest only the basest parts within ourselves or the basest parts of our society as a whole. Gotchas disembodied from the contexts of the lives, actions and millions of spoken words of public figures only really interest the idiots among us, and the media assigned to feed them. McCain is more or less an honest, decent, sincere and honorable guy. Are we best served with him as our president? Perhaps, but I doubt it so greatly that I've long said that my vote would go to any Democratic candidate over any Republican in this race. Is he squeaky clean, saintly, selfless or in some way Gandhi-esque? Hah! He's dirtier than any two average Americans combined. But is he the most honor-worthy politician from the entire crop of candidates? you betcha.

I've long cringed at the fact that such a zero like George Bush could have become President (and indeed gained my 2004 vote simply by having run against a giant douche). John McCain would leave me with no such crimson countenance should he win the '08 election. I - like - John (though I will do whatever I can to see one of his slimier opponents elected. This is not a popularity contest after all).


Anonymous said...

This just goes to show how dumb McCain is. Journalists may respect McCain - even like him - but they aren't going to vote for him. As journalists are overwhelingly democrats, isn't it foolish to discuss campaign strategy in front of them? The next person they talk to is liable to be some democratic party operative.

Now that he has the nomination, the NYT has already turned on him - publishing stories that imply (between the lines) that he's been sleeping with a lobbiest. They just came out with a story today about him being possibly ineligible for the white house, as he was born in the canal zone. Of course he is eligible to be President, and the Times knows it, but it's a way of sabotaging him.

He's a republican - what does he expect the Times to do? Endorse him? That he tries to curry favor with them demonstrates that he ain't that bright.

Anonymous said...

I suspect politico junkies are reading too much of their own thinking patterns into McCain's intent and strategy here.

McCain, like BushII, does not seem a overly complicated, reflective or scheming guy. They are both somewhat impulsive and stubborn gut thinkers.

McCain acts the way he does with reporters because that is his personality. He became the nominee in large part because he was next in the loyality line by the GOP rules and the MSM/elites touted him while relentlessly sliming his only viable opposition in Romney.

McCain is a stubborn old coot and a media whore. He loves the attention and isn't going to change his style at 71. Having the media crowd around him (positive or negative) probably gives him more of a thrill now than his rich trophy wife.

Anonymous said...

If the oil was flowing there would be enough money to bribe everybody. Some people thought that was the original idea.

You are about right on Northern Ireland except they are more likely to get jobs running some sort of community development project.

The basic problem from the Protestant point of view used to be that the South was much poorer than the North which made union less than attractive (this was also an unstated problem for Catholics which is why they wanted a pie in the sky socialist republic rather than the real country). Since Ireland's desperate 1989 decision to try libertarian free marketism her economy has grown fantasticly & is now considerably richer per capita than Britain's, indeed by most measures slightly ahead of the USA. Union with that doesn't seem quite such so unattractive.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, please stop retailing the bogus story that GHW Bush had no clue what a supermarket scanner is. This was definitively debunked ages ago and you can check it out at snopes.com. It's really pathetic when you parrot totally inane liberal media lies.

Anonymous said...

Wrong-o. The real performers on American Idol are Simon Cowell, et al. And we hear a lot about their petty bickering.

Anonymous said...

american idol is very much the yankees. the judges basically criticize eachother in public each episode.