From New York Magazine:
How McCain Lost His Brand
From maverick to crank in an instant.
Illustration by André Carrilho
I have sat across from Chris Matthews enough times now, participating in that psychotropic ritual known as Hardball, that I thought I’d heard it all—but then the other night he uncorked a doozy that actually rendered me speechless. (No, that is not a misprint.) “Let’s start with John McCain,” he said to me on the air shortly after the first presidential debate between McCain and Barack Obama. “Do you think he was too troll-like tonight? You know, too much of a troll?” I laughed. “Seriously,” Chris went on. “Do people really want to put up with four years of that? Of [him] sitting there, angrily, grumpily, like a codger?”
As both a media figure and a human being, Matthews is sui generis—and yet what made his comments so remarkable was how unremarkable they were. In the past several weeks, the shift of press-corps sentiment against McCain has been stark and undeniable, even among heavies such as Matthews long accused by the left of being residents of the Arizonan’s amen corner. Jonathan Alter, Joe Klein, Richard Cohen, David Ignatius, Jacob Weisberg: all former McCain admirers now turned brutal critics. Equally if not more damaging, the shift has been just as pronounced, if less operatic, among straight-news reporters. Suddenly, McCain is no longer being portrayed as a straight-talking, truth-telling maverick but as a liar, a fraud, and an opportunist with acute anger-management issues.
In McCain-land, this turn of events has provoked a fit of press-bashing that recalls the complaints lodged, albeit less loudly and indiscriminately, by Hillary Clinton’s people. The New York Times, says McCain chief strategist Steve Schmidt, is a “pro-Obama advocacy organization.” When Politico’s Ben Smith questions some of Schmidt’s (factually dubious, it turns out) assertions, a McCain press aide declares that Smith is obviously “in the tank.” The liberal media is ignoring Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, and the alleged misdeeds of Joe Biden’s son.
Many of these whinges are purely tactical, others rooted in a genuine sense of grievance. But what all of them ignore is the degree to which the McCain campaign has been complicit in squandering one of the most precious assets its candidate brought to the race: a media dynamic that had previously worked overwhelmingly to his advantage. Indeed, at this moment, McCain and his aides are perilously close to losing control of his public image, if it hasn’t been lost already—a development that, as much as the financial crisis, may ultimately be seen as having driven the final nail into his coffin.
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