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Into the Obama Tank for the Final Push

Into the Obama Tank for the Final Push

By Jennifer Rubin - September 15, 2008

John McCain believes he is in an existential war. America is engaged in a death struggle against Islamic terrorists.

But he is also fighting for his life: against a media establishment dedicated to his political destruction.

Any pretense of fairness by the mainstream media is gone. The MSNBC duo of anchor buffoons have been downgraded but not fired. The Washington Post runs dueling front page articles -- one a recycled tabloid-like piece (apologies to our tabloid friends who generally don't recycle old material) about Cindy McCain's past drug problems and one, made up out of whole cloth, that Sarah Palin's allegedly believes and told departing troops that Iraq was behind 9-11. Caught concocting the latter story, the Post tried a hasty edit on the piece (in the middle of the night, no less) -- a maneuver which bloggers quickly spotted. We saw the oozing condescension of normally mild-mannered Charlie Gibson in his Palin interview. Assuring Palin he was using a direct quote (he was not) to accuse her of believing her son was on "task form God" and laying a gotcha trap on the Bush Doctrine (which has no single meaning), Gibson seemed himself to have a "task" -- to trip up a figure held in contempt by most of his colleagues. And of course we are treated to lengthy "investigative" pieces on Palin -- which lack any factual support for their scandal-suggestive headlines. But still there is nary an investigative piece in any major newspaper on Barack Obama's ties to the Chicago machine of Bill Daley, the mismanaged Annenberg Challenge, his relationship with Bill Ayers or the problematic donations from the Woods Fund.

All of this follows the litany of personal attacks on Sarah Palin -- for everything from running for office while having kids to allegedly supporting Pat Buchanan (she didn't) to advocating creationism in the schools (she hasn't).

Why the two-week spree of fury?

Howard Kurtz declares that the media is "mad" -- mad at McCain for "manipulating them." Others bemoan that McCain has hijacked the storyline and "forced" them to talk about Obama's gaffes. Meanwhile, juicy stories that would be headlines if a Republican were involved -- the meager charitable donations by Joe Biden and a bizarrely inaccurate Obama ad asserting McCain doesn't use a computer (he does but can't type due to war injuries) -- are utterly ignored by the MSM. Rather the storyline continues unabated: those mean Republicans are lying again. But really, what's up? As a longtime prominent conservative editor says the media bias is "the worst I've ever seen." Well, the answer: it's what's down. Barack Obama's numbers -- both national polls and electoral vote tallies -- are taking a nose dive. The media is now, as is the rest of the Democratic establishment, in a frenzied meltdown. Their guy could well lose and they've staked their reputations, such as they are, on his victory. It is not hard to see why they have gone into overdrive to protect and bolster The One.

This is not merely a matter of personal political preference. These journalists have a real problem: what if all those pundits and reporters actually have to cover (for four or eight years) the team they have trashed for the last year? What if the McCain people won't talk to them, if they are frozen out of the in-the-know circle of media elites? This is a real problem.

But the increased venom and hyper-partisanship won't likely solve this problem. The lesson is only two weeks old but they have forgotten it already. Did vilifying Sarah Palin work? Of course not. It made her more popular and helped recruit a massive audience for her homerun speech. In the meantime it helped galvanize the GOP base which rallied to their VP nominee under siege. In the process, the media revealed themselves to be so heavily biased that even normally trusting readers and viewers have come to discount and flat-out ignore their spin.

So what is everyone to do? The McCain camp likely will keep doing precisely what they are doing: run right over the media to the American people, afford Palin the opportunity to be seen and interact with as many people as possible and provide better access to her for whichever outlets can still manage to accurately convey what she says and does. Ditto for McCain.

The MSM has a choice: double down and risk extinction, ridicule and potential ostracism from the McCain team or try to play it straight. The debates will be telling in this regard. You never know: they might become savvier about covering their tracks via late night alterations: the blogosphere is always watching. As for readers and viewers, they have the power of the purse and the clicker which they are increasingly exercising. Some 69% of voters think the media is rooting for a candidate - one presumes that they are already discounting the sycophantic coverage of Obama.

But that still leaves Barack Obama trailing in the polls. You see, the MSM's act (i.e. ridiculous hit pieces on McCain coupled with glowing, defenses of Obama and non-reputing of stories adverse to Obama) is played out on its own stage. Ultimately he is on his own. No amount of Chris Matthews's commentary is likely to convince Americans that Sarah Palin is a rube. No matter how many "Cindy McCain took drugs" stories above the fold, Americans still are inclined to evaluate the character and record of John McCain on its merits.

In the end the voters, and not the media, will elect a Presidential ticket. If they fail in their mission to revive the candidacy of their favorite son, the major newspapers and television networks will have to justify their own conduct, repair reputations and mend fences and convince news consumers they still matter. Good luck with that.

Jennifer Rubin is PJM's Washington, DC, editor. She also blogs at Commentary’s Contentions.

Jennifer Rubin

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