The Media Whiffs on McCain, Quayle, Palin, Murkowski, and Rubio

The returns from Arizona, Alaska, and Florida show that the purveyors of wisdom still don’t get it.


This year’s August primary night will go down as the night the media took it on the chin. The returns from Arizona, Alaska, and Florida provide proof that the purveyors of wisdom, housed in studios in Washington, D.C. and New York, still don’t “get it.”

We begin in Arizona. The media spin regarding Ben Quayle’s congressional primary win is that his name recognition and fundraising capacity “did it for him.” I have yet to read or hear how the national media, through the free publicity it bestowed upon him as it sought to take him down, added to his celebrity status and helped stock his treasury. First came stories about his allegedly posting items on a “naughty” Web site and, as if this were Watergate, “lying about it.” In the hands of a national media, Ben was all but presented as one of the preeminent purveyors of pornography in America. To this day, more people have heard about this Web site than actually viewed it. And what constitutes the definition of the word “naughty” in the eyes of Ben’s accusers is anyone’s guess.

CNN clinched Ben’s nomination when it had John King devote 20 minutes to cross examining Ben, not about what his policy views, but about whether he stands by an opinion he offered in an ad that Barack Obama is the worst president in history. It obviously did not dawn upon producers that this is a view a good many Republican primary voters in Arizona share. To them, King presented Quayle as the most anti-Obama Republican in the field. If Ben’s campaign has a sense of humor, they would send CNN a dozen red roses.

We now come to John McCain. How many times have we heard it said that McCain had abandoned his principles in order to retain his seat? Viewers would conclude from the national coverage of his campaign that a) no candidate had ever adjusted his or her position before in order to enhance their odds of re-election; and, b) that the “old John McCain” (the one they long for) was actually a liberal. Hint: McCain was running in Arizona, not New York. Again, we are talking about Republican primary voters. To them, McCain is best known as the last person who stood in the way of Obama and all his presidency has come to symbolize and mean (revamping of the healthcare and financial service industries, a bloated stimulus package, expanded government, bailouts, mounting deficits, and all the rest). On which of these was McCain ever to the left of center--or even in the center? (How does one survive in Arizona or almost anywhere with the opinions aired on MSNBC?)

[See who supports McCain.]

The state with the greatest potential to cast egg (contaminated or not) on the face of pundits is Alaska. For the last several weeks, the “narrative” (how I am coming to hate that word) has been the alleged “catfight” between former Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. (Issues rarely matter on the tube, except as vehicles to showcase personalities.) Almost absent from the coverage we non-Alaskans saw were three facts that may have influenced the outcome. The first was voters’ lingering resentment over Murkowski’s appointment by her father. (Bushes and Quayles prefer to let the voters select them.) Then there was the low return rate of appointed U.S. senators. (Walter Mondale remains among the few to have both survived and made a career of service in the Senate.)

[See who donated the most to Murkowski's campaign.]

Most importantly was the death of former Sen. Ted Stevens so close to the primary. How the media missed this one, given the extensive (and in my view overblown) coverage it gave Stevens’s demise will be the subject of doctoral dissertations. Stevens’s use of his vaunted position in the Senate to corrupt the appropriations process to steer money from 49 other states to Alaska and the degree to which Murkowski sought to emulate him presented Alaskans with an important choice to make. Do they want to be known as the proud, independent last frontier we saw every week on Northern Exposure, or as the lobbyist-laden, politically corrupt, federally financed “bridge to nowhere” state, where benefits, produced by the hard work and taxes of the many--both inside Alaska and out--are bestowed on the powerful, the well-connected, and the few? Republican primary voters, albeit by a narrow margin, appear to have decided. Again, what is it about them that armchair and anchor analysts do not understand? Pork barrel spending and Tea Parties do not often or always mix--not even in Alaska.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on the Tea Party.]

We conclude with the nation’s new entertainment capital, otherwise known as Florida. Kendrick Meek’s primary win bodes well for everybody but Charlie Crist. With a boost from Bill Clinton, Meek galvanized a Democratic base that will stay with him through thick and thin. His nomination will cause labor bosses to think twice before deserting a Democratic Party that has so often relied upon the votes of ethnic and other minorities to win elections. Teachers unions, should they decide to stick with Crist, will have to explain their continued failures to educate the children of Meek’s (and other inner city Democrats’) constituents. [See who supports Meek.]

As it nears the home stretch, the Florida race remains Marco Rubio’s to win or lose. I am betting on a win. Cast while running against Crist in the GOP primary (again in out-of-state studios) as but another “right-wing zealot” with good hair and talking points, Rubio has shown the capacity to break with his national party on issues of importance to the people of Florida, the nation, and his conscience. (Cardboard cutouts, whether from the right or the left, do not bet to be speaker of the Florida house.)

Eloquent, optimistic, and conservative, but knowing his own mind, Rubio increasingly resembles another alleged right-winger pundits once dismissed as a lightweight. It serves Jeff Greene right for claiming not to recall whether he voted for Ronald Reagan. The Gipper always recalled having voted for Franklin Roosevelt four consecutive times and why. Marco Rubio was nine years old when Reagan was elected president. I would wager he well remembers for whom he was cheering in that election. I look forward to hearing him reminisce about that on CNN.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.
  • See who is donating to your member of Congress.
  • See a slide show of 5 key issues in the 2010 elections.