Sunday, August 17, 2008

The McCain Rules for Interviews

Ninety-five percent of this NY Times article about McCain's foreign policy views could have been written by his communications director. In more than 2800 words, it finds room for just one short quote that's critical of McCain. The campaign responded to questions by e-mail, and the Times unblinkingly reports "Mr. McCain wrote in an e-mail message on Friday ..." Umm, he doesn't know how to use a computer, remember?

The McCain campaign appears to have decided that given their candidate's tendency to get confused about even basic policy issues, it's too dangerous to sit him down for an extended interview, so they've dictated that for detailed policy pieces like this he can only be "interviewed" by proxy through aides, or through e-mailed responses written by the campaign staff.

On a similar note I noticed the huge difference in the structure of the dual interviews with McCain and Obama published in Fortune Magazine in June. The article on the Obama interview makes it clear that Obama had a long discussion with the reporter covering a wide range of issues. In contrast, the article on the McCain "interview" includes exactly one response from the candidate himself, before switching to spin provided by his chief strategist, and then saying, "For the lowdown on McCain's economic plan, we turn to [McCain adviser] Doug Holtz-Eakin ...," at which point the article begins an actual discussion of McCain's economic policy views, or at least what Holtz-Eakin claims they are.

By agreeing to these rules, whereby McCain rarely has to face a genuine interview, McCain's journalist friends are shielding him from his high risk of looking confused when talking about policy. I'm hoping that, at least in the debates, they won't be able to protect him.

UPDATE: Frank Rich made similar observations in yesterday's NY Times:

Josh Marshall accurately observes that the Republican candidate is “graded on a curve.” Most Americans still don’t know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail “McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries’ names wrong, forgets things he’s said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused.” Most Americans still don’t know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the press’s previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.

1 comment:

PinkBunny said...

If you have seen the recent forum at Saddleback Church, it was very much apparent, that McCain was regurgitating campaign messages in response to Rick Warren's questions. In fact it was mentioned that he had prepared a great deal, getting coaching points.

I think you have a very valid point on McCain's inability to comprehensively explain any of his policies - unless there is an issue related to Foreign policy. but even there, it appears he gets some coaching from Wikipedia! I think McCain is very much managed by his handlers, and the fact that unless he has Lindsey Graham or Joe Lieberman there to coach him, he seems to have a problem to correctly state his own policy or facts regarding issues at hand.