McCain’s turn in the minefield

It’s not often that a big player in the mainstream media turns around and publicly chastises a candidate for the presidency. But that’s just what Associated Press did in this analysis. Mark Halperin of ‘The Page’ titled his take on the analysis as ‘AP Slams McCain-Palin’. I guess that’s about right.

The AP writer thrashes McCain’s mudslinging of the past days. The problem: McCain was a target of mudslinging in 2000, when his then-rival George W. Bush started an outrageous slander campaign against him. So McCain took the moral high ground and said that he’d never engage in such a campaign himself.

But now he’s doing it to Obama, and McCain’s not showing any remorse over it. He thought he could get away with it, but the AP-story is just the first big one to change the narrative about the McCain campaign: from simply being an information broker, dishing out McCain’s mud, it switched to writing about the candidate’s campaign, and the mud and lies involved.

Others, such as Halperin but also the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico.com, ABC News’s Jake Tapper and even the Wall Street Journal, have also wondered about the direction McCain’s campaign has taken. Until now, they’ve only mentioned it as asides – a few lines in paragraphs, down below at the end of big stories – but in today’s news business, it could snowball to gigantic proportions within hours.

And they’d have a point.

Because there is an element which the Associated Press writer doesn’t mention in his article (which he should have), but which is probably troubling him and other reporters. As a news organisation manned by professional journalists, you want to do your utmost to bring neutral, objective facts. If anything, the facts you are reporting must be correct.

So it is harrowing when a candidate for office – who demands that you also report his side of the story – purposely feeds you with lies about his opponent, and stands by those lies, even if it has been established publicly that they are, in fact, lies. Because at that moment, the reporters feel that they’ve been scammed, and that their medium is being used to spread lies, mud and deceit. Readers might feel the same way and start looking badly on the news media in question.

His mudslinging could potentially backlash mightily on McCain. As a politician, journalists are never your friends, That’s a fact. But it is also unwise to make them your enemies.

If McCain’s conducting of his campaign becomes the narrative the next news cycles, he’s in real trouble because that could potentially wipe out the advances he made in the past week.