Eric Alterman: Blind Punditry (Re: McCain)

Roundup: Historians' Take

In June, I wrote (with George Zornick) in Loving John McCain about the media's maddening blindness towards the extremism and/or crass political expediency of Senator John McCain:

On issue after issue, and from every side of the journalistic political spectrum, a campaign of deception and distortion has helped to ensure that McCain's extreme positions and politically inspired flip-flops remain far from the consciousness of the average voter. Just as the media-promoted notion that George W. Bush was the kind of guy with whom one might enjoy a few beers managed to obscure the predictable catastrophes that lay in store for this nation once he became President, so too can the deep-seated media denial of McCain's extremist policies and addiction to political expediency mask the fact that his victory in November would result in a continuation--and even, in some instances, an expansion--of the very policies that have brought the nation to the brink of irreversible disaster.

I hope that, 7,000 words later, we proved our case. A few months later, we've seen many more examples of the media's transgressions in this regard--although perhaps none better than what Tom Brokaw offered up yesterday in Denver. (Halperin was a close second, also yesterday.

The Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics, and Public Policy held a talk, moderated by Judy Woodruff, between the Sunday show honchos-- Brokaw, Bob Schieffer, and George Stephanopoulos. Discussing McCain's success in the Republican primaries, Brokaw attributed it to the candidate's"indomitable will," and opined that McCain won by simply being"the most authentic...he wasn't trying to reinvent himself."

This is not only wrong, but diametrically, screamingly wrong. It's not a difficult point--McCain won the primaries specifically by reversing himself on taxes, immigration, the religious right, and virtually every other issue important to the hard right. These policies were not only blazingly visible--Mitt Romney and others called him on it loudly during the Republican debates--but obviously destructive, as the last eight years have proven.

And yet, here is Brokaw saying of the candidate who by far has done the most to change his positions that McCain was"the most authentic...he wasn't trying to reinvent himself." Remember, this isn't old, retired, mildly irrelevant Tom Brokaw. This is the new (for now) host of Meet the Press, and certainly someone who will be a prominent figure in the coverage of the allegedly most-liberal cable network during the elections.

Now, that's not to say that all the reporting has been bad... the New York Times had a probing story this weekend about the McCain family's path to wealth. It's long, but in it, we learn the following:

The wealth is almost all Cindy's--but she ain't an industrious success story. She inherited a beer distributorship from her father, for which she does little, if any, actual work:"She crisscrosses the country on the company jet, keeps an accountant on the company payroll to mind her personal finances, drives a company Lexus with 'MS BUD' plates and says she oversees the company's"strategic planning and corporate vision." Yet she almost never shows up in the office, is deemed an absentee owner by Anheuser-Busch and has left scarcely a mark on the company, present and former executives say."

The company does wield a lot of clout in Arizona politics, but usually to suspect ends."Her business ... recently found itself at odds with advocates for pediatric hospital beds in Arizona's neediest communities and for a statewide childhood education program. When the advocates proposed initiatives that would raise liquor taxes, Hensley opposed them." Also,"At the national level, the company's priorities, fought for by the National Beer Wholesalers' Association, include rolling back the national excise tax of about 5 cents a beer, last raised in 1991, and fighting efforts by hard-liquor distillers to require labels showing the amount of alcohol in a standard serving. The beer lobby also successfully opposed a bill to pay for television advertisements combating under-age drinking."

Read it and weep in your beer.... (haha, I know we're only wine drinkers here at The Nation....)

Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at

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