The War Against the Press

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008; 1:19 PM

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 3 -- I've talked to many political professionals over the years who were mad at the media, or me in particular.

But I've never quite had a conversation like the one Tuesday night with Steve Schmidt.

He was absolutely furious as he unloaded on the journalistic community for, in his view, unfairly savaging Sarah Palin.

Sure, it is in his interest to try to get the press to tone things down. But Schmidt -- a hard-headed, no-nonsense, on-message strategist -- really sounded shell-shocked. And so he was saying things on the record that senior aides usually say only under a cloak of anonymity.

That doesn't make his accusations right. But it does suggest to me that a brewing conflict between McCain and his media chroniclers -- one that makes the ol' Straight Talk Express days a distant memory -- has reached the boiling point. And that there are gender and cultural issues swirling around Palin's nomination that would have created conflict even without the added complication of her daughter's pregnancy.

Let's get straight to the news:

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.

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.

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