COMMENTS: McCain Makes Rare News

A rarity in this Democratic-dominated primary season, Republican John McCain led the day's campaign coverage with attention from a reporter on all three networks. ABC anchor Charles Gibson looked forward to Friday's release of McCain's medical records, "giving a few reporters a limited look" and asked in-house physician Timothy Johnson (embargoed link) to survey potential problems with his melanoma, his Vietnam War injuries and his seventysomething age. Johnson gave us the statistics: he has a 30% chance of his skin cancer recurring over the next two years; he has a 16 year life expectancy; he has a 30% chance of developing memory loss or even dementia. After being held prisoner of war in Hanoi "he was carefully assessed by Navy psychiatrists for many years after his release. They found no evidence of any serious problems and he strongly denies any symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

CBS had Chip Reid cover McCain's relationship with televangelist John Hagee, who "has been a thorn in John McCain's side for months now. Today McCain finally said enough." The last straw was a ten-year-old sermon in which Hagee preached that Adolf Hitler had been a divine instrument in the foundation of the state of Israel, since the Nazi Holocaust was God's plan to drive European Jews to the Promised Land. McCain found that idea "offensive and indefensible" and disavowed Hagee's endorsement. CBS' anchor Katie Couric had another interpretation--namely that Hagee was making "derogatory comments about Jews"--that seems wide of the mark. If anybody comes off looking bad it is not Jews but God. Hagee seems to be accusing the Almighty of complicity in the Final Solution.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell focused on McCain's opposition to the GI Bill, which increases federal college scholarships for military veterans. McCain opposes the increased benefits, O'Donnell explained, arguing that "it would encourage too many officers to leave military service when retaining mid-level leaders is urgently needed." Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama made a speech on the Senate floor saying he "cannot understand" McCain's opposition to the measure. "McCain, a decorated former PoW, typically does not raise an opponent's lack of military service," O'Donnell observed, yet in this case he commented that Obama "did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform" and so will not be lectured by him on veterans issues.

What is all that about? O'Donnell asked McCain's aides why he resorted to such unwonted sniping. "McCain took personal offense claiming Obama had impugned McCain's motive for opposing the bill," came the reply. Come on O'Donnell, what about a follow up? What motive had Obama alleged? Did that allegation indeed impugn McCain's honor? It is really not good enough for O'Donnell to cite anonymous aides alleging unidentified dishonorable slurs to justify ad hominem insults. Without explanation or elaboration, this does not qualify as journalism--it is no more than backbiting recycled.

NBC's O'Donnell rounded out her McCain coverage with a couple of other tidbits. She quoted his exchange on daytime TV's Ellen when he wished "every happiness" to the soon-to-be-married lesbian DeGeneres even as he disagreed with her right to get married. "Thank you. So you will walk me down the aisle?" DeGeneres smiled, taking that word "every" a little too literally. O'Donnell also previewed the candidate's vetting of a trio on his Vice Presidential shortlist this weekend: "His aides hope the speculation about VP will overshadow tomorrow's release of McCain's medical records," she sniped.


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