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McCain and N.Y. Times continue a long-running bout

DEVLIN BARRETT | August 2, 2008 12:21 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — It is a tradition at many kitchen tables to yell at the newspaper. At John McCain's kitchen table, it is becoming a tradition to yell at one paper in particular: The New York Times.

The latest dustup between the Republican presidential candidate and the "All the News that's fit to Print" big-name newspaper centered on the editorial board's back-to-back criticisms of McCain, one dispatch accusing him of taking the low road and another contending that he was playing politics with race.

The second editorial, which appeared on the Times Web site, said McCain's ads conjured up loaded racial images and raised the specter of O.J. Simpson.

"The presumptive Republican nominee has embarked on a bare-knuckled barrage of negative advertising aimed at belittling Mr. Obama," the editorial board wrote.

The response from the McCain campaign was equally cutting.

"If the shareholders of The New York Times ever wonder why the paper's ad revenue is plummeting and its share price tanking, they need look no further than the hysterical reaction of the paper's editors to any slight, real or imagined, against their preferred candidate," said McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb.

Goldfarb compared the editors to a blogger "sitting at home in his mother's basement and ranting into the ether between games of Dungeons & Dragons."

Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis declined to comment on Friday.

The relationship between McCain _ a frequent reader of the newspaper _ and the Times has been rocky. Yet such a grudge could pay political dividends for the presidential candidate, as criticizing the liberal media often improves a candidate's standing with Republican Party conservatives. That's critical for McCain, who has never been their favorite.

Back in January, the Times endorsed McCain's candidacy for the Republican nomination, saying, "Sen. John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe."

Since then, it's been McCain v. The New York Times.

In February, the newspaper printed a story about McCain and a female lobbyist, reporting that unnamed McCain associates years ago had become concerned the relationship may have become romantic. Both McCain and the lobbyist have unequivocally denied that it was, and the newspaper's editor said he was surprised at the reaction to the story.

A month later, McCain flashed his temper at a Times reporter, repeatedly cutting her off when asked whether he had spoken to Democratic Sen. John Kerry about being his vice president in 2004.

Then last month, Republicans complained that the paper rejected an Op-Ed piece by McCain about the Iraq war after one by Obama was printed and received widespread attention. The paper said it had only tried to get McCain to rewrite the piece to be more specific about his plan.

"McCain is still, I think, upset about the Op-Ed not being printed," said Mike Paul, a former aide to New York Republicans who is now a consultant.

Paul said several recent moves by McCain show the presidential candidate is consciously moving away from his role as an unconventional politician.

"A lot of the maverick positioning is now turning into more conservative positioning, and some of that includes not being afraid to go negative, not being afraid to call a liberal a liberal, and not being afraid to go after a newspaper," said Paul.

Beyond any personal pique there may be, there is a strategy to attacking the Times because it is a bogeyman of conservatives who still may not be entirely sold on the Arizona senator.

Senior advisers are fully aware that assailing the Times could help endear McCain to his talk radio skeptics and their followers.

So, they go after the newspaper often _ and send the message: McCain stands with you.

Advisers also recognize the power of the newspaper to influence how other media organizations cover the campaign, so they are aggressive in pointing out where they feel McCain was wronged.

McCain, though, is hardly the first Republican to want to tear up the paper.

Back in 1992, aides to President George H.W. Bush complained that the Times and other media outlets had mischaracterized his examination of a grocery check-out scanner by suggesting he was unfamiliar with the long-used technology and implying he was out of touch with everyday Americans' economic issues.

In the 2004 election, a conservative anti-tax group called Club for Growth ran an ad decrying Democrat Howard Dean as a "latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading" tax-raiser.

"It's not complicated," said Club for Growth spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik. The paper, she said, "has really become a symbol for a lot of conservative grievances."

"For starters, their editorials are decidedly liberal. That's a no-brainer. And there are often complaints that even their general reporting is biased in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The New York Times has come to be associated with the Northeast liberal establishment."

Paul, the consultant, said he thinks the McCain campaign's criticisms of the paper may look good to some but won't work in the long run.

"You might get that base, but you won't win the election," he said. "It goes back to the old saying, 'Don't throw rocks at people who own ink barrels' ... and people have gotten sick and tired of the excuse that all media is liberal."

Filed by Nick Sabloff  |  Report Corrections