Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shouldn't matter, but it does

Saint John McCain has been joking for years about his absurdly cuddly relationship with the press, which he (accurately) calls his "base." So this is fascinating:

John McCain’s campaign plane is usually a pretty jovial place to be. The senator, his family and aides sit in the first few rows, while the press is stationed in the back of the plane. On most days, the two sides openly mingle, with reporters sometimes able to sit close so close to the front that they can hear McCain and his aides talking strategy.

But in the aftermath of today’s New York Times story looking at McCain’s dealings with a Washington lobbyist, the mood is decidedly different. Before McCain boarded his plane, reporters were asked to sit farther back than usual on the plane. And when McCain finally boarded the plane, he failed to offer his usual wave at reporters and opted to quickly take his seat. During the flight, the cabin was unusually quiet, save a few quick discussions McCain had with top aides Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter. Near the end of the flight, Schmidt came back to the press cabin, where, with cameras off, he railed against the New York Times for publishing its story.

There is the potential here for the special form of positive feedback loop known as a death spiral -- as McCain turns his legendary temper toward the press and stops being their darling, they will be less deferential, which will only further piss off McCain, and so on.

The readout of the Feel-Good-O-Meter on the Straight Talk Express should be right up there in relevance to a presidential campaign with the readout on the gauge that reads air pressure in the tires. But in the dysfunctional theater of high school psychodrama that is our Washington press corpse, it is not mere speculation to say that this kind of nonsense can decide an election. It already did.


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