Matthews offers walk-and-chew-gum explanation for why media don't adequately cover McCain

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On MSNBC, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, Dan Abrams, and Rachel Maddow discussed how the media, in Matthews' words, "completely ignore [Sen.] John McCain's problems." But in purporting to explain "the way the media works," Matthews suggested that it is not possible for the media to cover both the Democratic primary and McCain adequately, asserting: "[A]s long as we focus on the fight between Hillary and Barack, and perhaps more recently just on Barack's problems, it blocks the sun -- the media, the public's attention -- from the problems that are obviously incipient and coming to be at some point with McCain."

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During MSNBC's coverage of the May 6 Democratic primaries, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, Dan Abrams, and Rachel Maddow discussed how the media, in Matthews' words, "completely ignore [Sen.] John McCain's problems." But in purporting to explain "the way the media works," Matthews, who anchored the primary coverage and hosts MSNBC's Hardball, offered the dubious suggestion that it is not possible for the media to cover both the Democratic primary and McCain adequately, asserting: "[A]s long as we focus on the fight between [Sens.] Hillary [Clinton] and Barack [Obama], and perhaps more recently just on Barack's problems, it blocks the sun -- the media, the public's attention -- from the problems that are obviously incipient and coming to be at some point with McCain." Liz Cox Barrett, who noted MSNBC's coverage in a May 7 post at the Columbia Journalism Review's daily blog, described Matthews' explanation of "how the media works" as "Can't Walk and Chew Gum." Indeed, it was Matthews, who in a recent hour-long interview with McCain, failed to challenge McCain on several issues, including statements regarding Iraq policy, other foreign policy issues, campaign finance, and spending projects, despite purporting to ask "tough" questions, but did manage to ask the following question of McCain, which Matthews characterized as a "tough one": "Is Barack Obama an elitist?"

Additionally, while Matthews and Russert, NBC's Washington bureau chief, noted what they described as McCain's "problems," "weaknesses," and "mistake[s]," and suggested that the media have not given McCain what Russert referred to as "the same kind of scrutiny" as his Democratic rivals, Russert also suggested that the media could not cover both McCain and the Democrats, asserting: "But all of that in time. I mean, it is only May. This has been going on for some time but it's gonna be a long, long campaign. And when Senator McCain is back in the media's light, he'll receive the same kind of scrutiny." Purporting to translate Russert's comments, Barrett wrote: "We'll stop ignoring McCain's mistakes when we start focusing on McCain's mistakes!" [italics in original]. As Media Matters for America noted, on the May 5 edition of ABC Radio Networks' Imus in the Morning, Russert ignored his own role in the media's disparate coverage of Rev. John Hagee, whose endorsement McCain sought and obtained, versus its coverage of Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the context of the Obama campaign: "I don't think -- the Hagee thing, McCain has not been questioned in great scrutiny by that -- scrutinized about that, or a lot of things. I mean, he's been -- really been given this grace period to go around the country, unify his party, raise some money, put a campaign together, and he's benefited from enormously. There's no doubt about it."

Later in the broadcast, Maddow, an MSNBC analyst, asserted:

MADDOW: John McCain is an attractive candidate to a lot of people who identify as moderate voters -- at least he is now with the way the media treats him. If John McCain gets redefined by a strong Democratic opponent and by a hungry press, then he won't be as attractive. But right now with the brand that he brings from 25 years of being essentially tongue-bathed by the press and being called a maverick, then he does have a lot of appeal.

In response, Abrams, host of MSNBC's Verdict, said: "Look, I agree with you about the media coverage of John McCain. That's why on my show, Verdict, we have a segment called 'Teflon John,' which relates to the fact that the media seems to love him and nothing seems to stick." Later Abrams stated: "[T]he Democrats have been getting a lot of -- have going after each other every night and we cover each and every one of the battles, and when it comes to McCain, we don't seem to cover it. Yet."

As Media Matters for America has extensively documented, the media have largely ignored McCain's inconsistencies, falsehoods, and controversial supporters.

From the 11 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC's coverage of the May 6 primaries:

MATTHEWS: Do you think [Democrats worrying about the effects of ongoing primary] are aware of the way the media works? I was explaining this to a group of students the other night, that, you know, as long as we focus on the fight between Hillary and Barack, and perhaps more recently just on Barack's problems, it blocks the sun -- the media, the public's attention -- from the problems that are obviously incipient and coming to be at some point with McCain -- his problem with the war, which is unpopular, his problem with the economy, which is very unsteady right now. The more we focus on the Jeremiah Wright story, the less we focus on Hillary's problem with candor and the more we completely ignore John McCain's problems. Do you think the Democratic warhorses know that as long as there's a fire going on in one of those rings, the Barack Obama ring, we're not gonna focus much on John McCain's weaknesses?

RUSSERT: Yes. They believed initially that ignoring the McCain campaign was beneficial and helpful to the Democrats. But as this is has gone on, they see in their minds -- and we get flooded with the emails, Senator McCain making a mistake on Shia versus Sunni, making a mistake about the first Persian Gulf War and the second vis-a-vis oil, and his own relationship with Pastor Hagee and why isn't that talked about and reported on the way Reverend Wright's relationship with Senator Obama is talked about.

But all of that in time. I mean, it is only May. This has been going on for some time but it's gonna be a long, long campaign. And when Senator McCain is back in the media's light, he'll receive the same kind of scrutiny.

From the 1 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC's coverage of the May 6 primaries:

MADDOW: I mean, John McCain is an attractive candidate to a lot of people who identify as moderate voters -- at least he is now with the way the media treats him. If John McCain gets redefined by a strong Democratic opponent and by a hungry press, then he won't be as attractive. But right now with the brand that he brings from 25 years of being essentially tongue-bathed by the press and being called a maverick, then he does have a lot of appeal.

ABRAMS: Look, I agree with you about the media coverage of John McCain. That's why on my show, Verdict, we have a segment called "Teflon John," which relates to the fact that the media seems to love him and nothing seems to stick.

MADDOW: But everybody else hasn't made that pivot yet even though you have.

ABRAMS: I don't mean to sit here and say, "Oh, we're so great." Look, it's just that the bottom line has been that the Democrats have been getting a lot of -- have going after each other every night and we cover each and every one of the battles, and when it comes to McCain, we don't seem to cover it. Yet.

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John McCain, 2008 Elections
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