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McCain Strategist Blasts Media

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In a meeting with The Post on Tuesday at the Republican National Convention, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said the 2008 election is about a composite of views, not issues. Video by Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 2 -- Sen. John McCain's top campaign strategist accused the news media Tuesday of being "on a mission to destroy" Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by displaying "a level of viciousness and scurrilousness" in pursuing questions about her personal life.

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In an extraordinary and emotional interview, Steve Schmidt said his campaign feels "under siege" by wave after wave of news inquiries that have questioned whether Palin is really the mother of a 4-month-old baby, whether her amniotic fluid had been tested and whether she would submit to a DNA test to establish the child's parentage.

Arguing that the media queries are being fueled by "every rumor and smear" posted on left-wing Web sites, Schmidt said mainstream journalists are giving "closer scrutiny" to McCain's little-known running mate than to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

The McCain camp has been unusually aggressive in pushing back against the media, and it seems to hope to persuade journalists to back off in their scrutiny of Palin. Obama campaign officials have complained to news organizations that their man has been subjected to considerably more investigative reporting than McCain has, but they have done so in more low-key fashion.

By contrast, Schmidt spoke on the record in denouncing as "an absolute work of fiction" a New York Times account of the process by which the McCain campaign vetted Palin. He also charged that Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman was predicting that the governor might have to step down as McCain's vice presidential choice.

Fineman said that he has "never, ever said that," and that he has pointed out positive aspects of Palin's candidacy. "They decided a long time ago that they were going to work the refs," he said.

Elisabeth Bumiller, the lead author of the Times report, said she is "completely confident about the story." As for the campaign's criticism, she said: "This is what they do. It's part of their operation."

McCain also canceled a scheduled appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Tuesday in retaliation for an interview a day earlier in which prime-time host Campbell Brown repeatedly pressed campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds to provide one example of a decision that Palin had made as commander of the Alaska National Guard.

"The interview was totally fair," Brown said. "I was trying to get an answer. I was persistent, but I was respectful. That's my job. Experience is a legitimate issue when John McCain raises it about Obama, and it's also legitimate for us to raise it about Palin."

Schmidt, a former spokesman for President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, talked openly about his frustrations in an interview with The Washington Post. He said the McCain camp is in the middle of the worst media "feeding frenzy" he has ever seen.

The fact that unsubstantiated allegations appear on the Internet "is not a license for smearing" Palin, he said. "The campaign has been inundated by hundreds and hundreds of calls from some of the most respected reporters and news organizations. Many reporters have called the campaign and have apologized for asking the questions and said, 'Our editors are making us do this, and I am ashamed.' "

The intensity of media inquiries hit a new level after an anonymous blogger on the liberal Web site Daily Kos last weekend charged that McCain's running mate is actually the grandmother of Trig Palin, the 4-month-old baby born with Down syndrome, and that the real mother is her daughter, 17-year-old Bristol Palin. That led to mainstream media inquiries, which prompted the McCain camp to disclose in a statement Monday that Bristol is five months pregnant and plans to have the baby and marry the teenage father.


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