11/01/2008 02:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

McCain Campaign Continues Lying to Reporters -- And What That May Mean Wednesday Morning

This is what it sounds like when the McCain-Palin campaign lies to reporters:

Back in July, David Corn posted some concerns about the way the McCain campaign manipulates the press on its frequent press conference telephone calls. According to Corn, the Republican nominee's press office does not merely end the calls while some reporters' hands are "raised" (something both campaigns do when speakers have other appointments), or pick and choose which reporters it permits to ask questions (something that the Obama campaign does not appear to do but which happens all the time in live press gaggles and is just a frustrating fact of life for reporters covering McCain, even though the campaign, ambiguously, sort of denies that it does). Corn went further and suggested that the McCain campaign actually lies about freezing out liberal reporters -- lies, by pretending that reporters don't have their hands up when in fact they do. (On these calls, "hands up" means you've pressed *1 and given your name and media outlet, which places you in queue to ask a question.)

AOL News' Tommy Christopher - who only was allowed to ask questions when the operator confused him with conservative writers - agreed that the McCain camp locks out disfavored news outlets and writers, here and here, and concluded:

As I was researching another story today, I came across a series of stories that asked whether the McCain campaign was screening out less friendly reporters from their press conference calls. *** Of course, they do!

Most progressive reporters, including myself, just gave up trying to ask questions on McCain calls. But Saturday, on a call with few reporters, I had a question I felt was important, tried again -- and, once again, was not just frozen out, but lied to about being frozen out.

The conference call was with former senator John Danforth, who co-chairs the campaign's so-called "Honest and Open Elections Committee." The call was just one of several dozen the campaign and G.O.P have called over the past two months to allege that Democrats are on the verge of stealing the election, but on this one, with the election so close, I wanted to ask Danforth what I considered an important question.

My question: whether there was any margin of victory for either candidate -- 50 electoral votes? a million popular votes? -- large enough that the campaign would acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcome, no matter what degree of voter fraud or voter suppression may also have existed. In other words, how big a win would it take to avoid claims of illegitimacy or a repeat of Bush v. Gore?

So, I queued up by pressing *1:

The call was on a Saturday, when turnout (even "virtual" turnout) is lower, so I thought I had a good chance of having my question asked. But after just a couple of reporters' questions, the operator announced there was no one else in line:

I emailed the campaign immediately to ask why this had happened and whether Huffington Post was being blacklisted, but so far have received no reply. That's not surprising: I emailed and called the campaign at least a dozen times back in July and August to ask a similar question, but despite several promises that representatives would call me back, none ever did.

This kind of "procedural" lying is just part of a larger pattern of deception about things that reporters have the right to trust campaigns about, such as telling reporters that the fire marshal has estimated a McCain crowd at a certain size when in fact there's no such estimate and the crowd is much smaller.

The Obama campaign, both according to their spokesmen and in my own experience on at least fifty press conference calls throughout the campaign, sometimes cuts off questioning based on time limitations but doesn't pretend there are no more questions when in fact there are, always takes questions on a first-come, first-served basis, and doesn't blacklist any questioners (frequently taking questions, for example, from reporters with Fox News).

The McCain-Palin campaign claims that the media are "in the tank" for Obama and aren't giving them a fair shake. Even if that were true, could there be any question why? But more importantly, the G.O.P. is going out of its way to sow seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of the victory Barack Obama seems poised to win on Tuesday. The center-right, mainstream media reporters who've been allowed to ask questions on McCain's conference calls probably will assume, and report, that those doubts are legitimate; the reporters who've experienced firsthand the campaign's willingness to manipulate and deceive the media probably will report those claims of "vote fraud" with a grain of salt.

When the G.O.P. starts screaming Wednesday morning about how ACORN et al. rigged the election, I'm likely to come down on the "grain of salt" side. My cynicism won't be based on inherent bias, however; it'll be based on a long campaign's worth of experience -- experience that shows that McCain-Palin and their apologists are willing to lie about small things, and therefore presumably are perfectly willing to lie about large ones as well.