The Bush-McCain contest continues

By Robert McFarland
web posted March 6, 2000

Once again, the media has shown that they are the self-appointed political physicians for the Republicans. They are here to show the Republicans the way and to enlighten them. The political reporters, in this instance, are sort of like G-men with their mantra: "I'm from the press and I'm here to help."

In trying to save the Republicans from themselves, the media continues to try to portray John McCain as the choice of the rational person. The Washington Post ran a headline on the front page above the fold about how the "Senator's Popularity Builds." The associated graphics explain that of those "randomly selected adults" surveyed in their poll, 54 per cent like McCain more the more they hear about him, while 33 per cent like him less the more they hear about him. In case the point is lost on the reader, in an unrelated article, the Post reports how McCain "excited independents and converted some Democrats" to his cause.

Then to pound the point home, the media has chosen to echo McCain's charge that George W. Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University was tantamount to holding anti-Catholic sentiments, not unlike their treatment of him regarding the unsubstantiated rumors of his alleged cocaine use. Only just recently did it surface in the media - long after the South Carolina primary - that McCain supporter Rep. Lindsay Graham had received an honorary degree from Bob Jones. And it also later was revealed that John McCain's then-state co-chair House Speaker Pro Tem Terry Haskins attended the university. (Haskins has since resigned from the McCain campaign, citing the ugly contest between the GOP presidential contenders in manipulating the issue of religion.) But the fact that George's brother Jeb is a Roman Catholic makes McCain's media's charge utterly ridiculous. Also it was in South Carolina where former Green Beret Tom Burch dropped the bomb that McCain forgot his fellow POW's when he returned home. The Arizona senator responded to the charge by dismissing him as a "fringe veteran." And as John LeBoutillier observed in the Internet magazine NewsMax.com, it was amazing how many other news outlets begin to refer to Burch as the "fringe veteran."

For all of their efforts - whether intentional or not - to influence voters' preferences, the media needs to remember that the polls and public opinion change rapidly, and an argument for the inevitability of a candidate's nomination is always premature. Remember only months ago, everyone in the media was saying that both Bush and Al Gore were the inevitable nominees for their respective parties. No one realized then just how tense their races would soon become.

In case any one needs reminding, Republicans will decide for themselves who they would choose to be their standard bearer and will not be told whom to support. At the same time the Post proclaimed McCain's popularity building, the Post buried the fact that over the month of February, 10 per cent more of Republicans surveyed came to believe that McCain is "not a true conservative."

And that sentiment appears to have taken hold across the country. Virginia's open GOP primary yesterday resulted in a 53 per cent to 44 per cent return for Bush, and North Dakota Republicans voted nearly four to one in a record turnout for the Texas governor. Also, at the time of this writing, although McCain may take the popular vote in Washington state, Bush will likely win all the delegates up for grabs.

One would think that Republicans are slow to heed the sage advice of the media. But the results of yesterday's votes would seem to show that the GOP knows what it wants, without any assistance.

McCain often compares himself to Ronald Reagan when addressing his fellow GOPers. Regarding the comparison between McCain and Reagan, I think that Ari Fleischer, communications director for the Bush campaign, has said it best: There's one big difference between the two; Republicans liked Ronald Reagan.

Robert McFarland is director of Media Relations at the Free Congress Foundation.

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