Media still touting “maverick” McCain

In their coverage of the Michigan Republican primary, numerous media outlets and personalities praised Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain as a “maverick” who has challenged his party. However, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, on several major issues, McCain has taken positions consistent with those of his party.

During coverage of the January 15 Republican primary in Michigan, a number of media outlets and personalities continued a longstanding practice of touting Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (AZ) as a “maverick” who has challenged Washington and his own party, notwithstanding his positions on high-profile issues that are in line with those of his party.

On the January 16 broadcast of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Washington Post national political reporter Dana Milbank claimed that “there are occasional mavericks who will speak out against their party, like John McCain.” As purported evidence, Milbank asserted that McCain had “violated” a “taboo” when he called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance” during his 2000 presidential run. However, Milbank did not mention that McCain stated, on the April 2, 2006, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, that he no longer believed Falwell was an “agent of intolerance,” or that McCain then delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University in May 2006. In a May 14, 2006, Washington Post article, Milbank's colleague Dan Balz wrote that McCain's appearance at Liberty University “continued a rapprochement that has been underway for months with a critical constituency in the Republican Party as McCain prepares for another possible campaign in 2008.”

On the January 15 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, correspondent Bob Schieffer claimed that “McCain has always been sort of a maverick. He's always been willing to challenge the authority.” Additionally, a January 16 Reuters article described McCain as the “maverick senator” who “has ruffled feathers all over Capitol Hill.” The Financial Times reported on January 16 that McCain has a “reputation as an independent-minded maverick.” However, absent from all this coverage was any recognition that McCain has moved toward or taken positions consistent with his party on such prominent issues as immigration and tax cuts. As Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, he has also been one of the most constant and forceful proponents of the Iraq war and its continuation -- hardly a position at odds with his party.

From the January 16 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

JOE SCARBOROUGH (co-host): But isn't that what really makes your job so easy? The columns that you write week in and week out poking at people. I used to always have people when I was in Congress, 'cause I'd be invited on a lot of the cable shows a lot, that say, who's your PR guy? And I'd say, I don't have a PR guy. I just am willing to tell the truth about my party once in a while. And it's so shocking. But you're exactly right. What makes Washington so screwed up is the fact Democrats will never attack Democrats; Republicans will never attack Republicans. Tribes do not attack their own.

MILBANK: Right. It's all about tribal loyalty. That's your family. I mean, people have brothers and sisters and mothers and children, but that's not their real family. The family is the tribe and it's all about the preservation of the species. You know, the very word “Potomac” means, in the tongue of the Piscataway Indians, “where the goods are brought in.” And it's all about bringing in the goods. And if your party is in power, then you'll have the goods and the other party will be scalped. But, you know, there are occasional mavericks who will speak out against their party, like John McCain and --

MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): [Former] Governor [Mike] Huckabee [R-AR].

MILBANK: And something that you did in Congress. And that is -- and we in the media, I call them the Greek chorus, we love people like that. But that's fratricide.

SCARBOROUGH: What about -- it is fratricide and it always catches up to you. The machine always wins. Well, talk about Mike Huckabee. Because that's interesting. Here's a guy that think he's in the tribe --


SCARBOROUGH: The tribe doesn't want him anywhere around. They hate him.

MILBANK: You're not kidding. 'Cause we talk in Potomac land about Judeo-Christian religion and principles, but that's really -- a lot of that's for show. Because what Potomac man worships is public opinion; and the opinion polls are the sacred texts; and the strategists are the shamans, the medicine men who tell us what to do. Now, Huckabee, he represents a very alien, barbaric force to Potomac man and that's a religious conservative. We just don't get it. And in fact, John McCain violated that taboo and called them agents of intolerance, which is why he's having such a tough time out there. But Huckabee really is an alien; he's almost seen as a cannibal here who is eating into the rightful support of really genuine, good Potomac men like Giuliani and Romney.

From the January 15 edition of CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: And, Bob, John McCain can't be all that jazzed about the breakdown so far.

SCHIEFFER: No, I think not. Because you contrast it with what happened the last time. The -- you know, these are Republicans, but they're not necessarily John McCain's voters.

COURIC: Why is that?

SCHIEFFER: Well, you know, John McCain has always been sort of a maverick. He's always been willing to challenge the authority. And a lot of Republicans just have not forgiven him for that. This is not shaping up as the kind of vote that would be good for John McCain.

COURIC: And I think our exit polls are showing that the Republicans who did turn out are more conservative than moderate.