John McCain. Maverick, war hero and independent thinker.
John McCain. Media Darling.
John McCain. Loverboy.
This week was dominated by a story that Mr. Reform, Mr. Not-Beholden-to-Special Interests, had a special interest in a telecommunications lobbyist named Vicki Iseman.
Whether or not Johnny was involved romantically with Vicki (don’t they sound like a couple you’d find in the San Fernando Valley circa 1982?) is still in question. But the real story is being drowned out by this speculation, this red herring soap opera.
Because the real story is that Johnny Reform was making special efforts on behalf of two of her clients–Paxson Communications and Sinclair Broadcasting.
Paxson used to run PAX, the “family-friendly” cable network with a Christian overtones. The head of Paxson, Lowell “Bud” Paxson, is a “known Christian.” PAX has morphed into ION, which owns and/or operates 60 full-power broadcast television stations, including stations in each of the top 20 U.S. markets and 39 of the top 50 markets.
Sinclair is another Christian-oriented company. They own a number of local stations known throughout the industry for being darn kook on the right-wing kooky scale. Kookier and far more in-your-face than FOX, in fact. You should see their local newscasts! They are famously kooky among us media-types. They, too, have tried to buy up stations. But FCC rules forbid one company owning multiple stations in one market. Johnny, at the behest of Vicki, helped Sinclair jump through a loophole so they could buy up more stations.
And that’s the real story behind the soap opera.
So, why did key McCain advisors talk to the New York Times before the story ran? Why did the story run now?
Because they wanted it to run.
You see, they got a two-fer.
One, they knew there was a problem for Johnny Reform. His letters to the FCC and closeness to a lobbyist are bad, bad, bad for a guy who is running as a reformer. Who markets himself as independent of Washington sleaziness. He is likely to face Obama, who is riding a wave of reform-mindedness and anti-corruptionism. Although we hear about Iraq as the big issue that elected Democrats in 2006, the exit polls showed that corruption was the number one issue motivating voters…not Iraq. That’s stunning. That anti-corruptionism is still there, lurking behind unease about the economy. So, by putting the story out now…Johnny’s team has gotten “ahead of the issue,” and forced it into the newscycle early so that it can play out and become “old news” before the conventions. So that it can fade away and be muddled in the less important and impossible to prove accusations (and if you read the article, there is no actual accusation he slept with Vicki) of hanky-panky.
The other part of the two-fer is that it has made Johnny popular with kooky conservatives who have rejected him so far. They LOVE that he has been attacked by the “Liberal Media” and the NY Times. He has gotten more positive press from Hannity and Rush and other kooks than ever before. He’s had a jump fund-raising since the story ran.
One of his campaign captains literally said, “Thank you,” to a Times reporter on Mr. McCain’s campaign plane as it headed back to Washington from Indianapolis. Then he added to a group of reporters, “There was a lot of outrage across the country on the story, and the campaign has raised a lot of money in the last 24 hours.”
You see, this story was planned. This was a strategy to contain a scandal now, rather than have it blow up in October…and to build up Johnny’s street cred with kooky conservatives.
And it’s working.
I know for a fact that this is how the Washington Scandal Washing Machine spins, this is the soak phase and we are heading into the rinse cycle. All the real dirt will get drained away, and there is real dirt here, and we will be left with a laundered Johnny.
This story also has had the three-fer effect of pushing out of the media the indictment of Johnny’s co-campaign chair in Arizona, Congressman Rick Renzi, who is being hit with charges of money-laundering, fraud and extortion…among other things.
Of course, Johnny chipped in his two-cents on Renzi during the 2006 Election:
“This is Sen. John McCain. I’m calling to urge you to support my friend Rep. Rick Renzi for Congress. Rick has represented the first district of Arizona with tenacity, honesty and integrity beyond reproach. I work with Rick every day and can report to you his total dedication to the people of Arizona and the United States. Please join me in supporting rural Arizona’s workhorse congressman on Nov. 7.”
Well, well…perhaps not Johnny Reform after all?
Meanwhile, we’ll get a week or two of conservative outrage. Of little or less on the real scandal about McCain’s involvement in media consolidation on behalf of conservative media moguls. Of McCain’s camp inoculating him against future attacks from Reform Zealot Obama who has made curtailing lobbying and lobbyist power a key part of his pitch. A couple more weeks of the washing machine.
Then Johnny can, perhaps, have his “no, really…I’m a reformer” cake and eat it, too.