Over at the Los Angeles Times, Maeve Reston offers up her account of that time she asked John McCain a question about Viagara and officially caused the break up of the Arizona Senator and his once-beloved "base," the traveling press corps. If you don't remember the moment precisely, hers was the question that spawned this monster of a YouTube clip that, for a time, haunted McCain:
It's sort of nice to get Reston's side of the story here. Of course, this is hardly a blockbuster revelation. In fact, back in early September, McCain adviser Steve Schmidt cited Reston's question as the thing that bought him the opportunity to do something he'd long wanted to do:
Schmidt has one thing in common with Karl Rove: He is very, very good at his job. Okay, maybe one other thing: He also hates the media.
"Thank God you (the media) asked him (John McCain) about birth control," he says, referring to the uncomfortable exchange last month about whether insurance companies that cover Viagra should cover birth control.
Planned Parenthood turned that awkward moment into a campaign ad and McCain, who had been stubbornly refusing to give up his unscripted, on-the-record Straight Talk Express chats, was irked enough to rethink his embrace of what he used to call "his base."
Schmidt smiles: "I finally got to kick you off the bus."
If there's a new wrinkle that Reston presents, it's the barest whiff of resentment from McCain biographer Mark Salter, who told Reston that she "had made the case for those who thought McCain should curtail his exposure to the press." It's perhaps understandable that Salter should feel this way: he is the Keeper Of The Story, after all, and the Straight Talk Express - whether you believe all the hype about it or not (and I don't, though, in fairness, that's coming from someone who never saddled up for a ride) - is one of The Story's Best Parts.
For anyone not familiar with how the McCain-Press break up played out over the year, Reston's account will surely be an interesting one. Back in mid-September, I suggested that some might say that the falling out happened in large part because the reporters got "sick of being lied to," but that "I did not believe even for one instant that this is true!" There's nothing in Reston's account that suggests I need reconsider my belief on that score.
Still, it will be interesting how Reston's account will be received -- not by the McCain campaign, but by the bloggerati on the left. See, Reston's Viagara question was a key moment to all those who have fulminated against McCain all year. That YouTube, of McCain struggling to answer the question, was a pass-around, portable piece of critique at a time when many on the left felt Obama wasn't hitting McCain very hard on his views.
At the same time, however, Reston explicates her experiences on the trail with the same dose of sentimentality that sets the teeth of the Media Matterers on edge -- the collegial relationship, the mention of the Sedona BBQ, this talk of "dreamed about his events at night," the honeymoon suggestions - to many on the left, McCain can - indeed, must -- only be received with a spasm of pure revulsion. To admit that McCain has, or at one point had, a trace of humanity, to say nothing of decency, is tantamount to a betrayal of principle. How will Reston be remembered -- partisan hero or journalist hack? Ultimately, that's the price she'll pay for this extended navel gaze. Of course, I don't think it's that steep a price.