Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz broke two stories on Wednesday morning. Barack Obama held a secret meeting with Fox News Channel three months ago, and he will appear on The O'Reilly Factor on Thursday night, the night John McCain accepts the Republican nomination. (And people worried McCain would ruin Obama's big night by leaking Palin!)
The second bigger, newer story was McCain strategist Steve Schmidt accusing the news media of being on "a mission to destroy" Sarah Palin by displaying a level of viciousness and scurrilousness" in pursuing the personal lives of the Palin family.
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.
He said the McCain camp is in the middle of the worst media "feeding frenzy" he has ever seen. The fact that unsubstantiated allegations appear on the Internet "is not a license for smearing" Palin, he said. "The campaign has been inundated by hundreds and hundreds of calls from some of the most respected reporters and news organizations. Many reporters have called the campaign and have apologized for asking the questions and said, 'Our editors are making us do this, and I am ashamed.' "
....Some journalists, Schmidt said, have demanded to see Trig's birth certificate, or have asked when Palin went into labor and whether her contractions increased or decreased as she traveled from Texas to an Alaskan hospital in her home town, Wasilla. Others, he said, have asked whether Palin's eldest son, Track, who serves in the Army and is deploying to Iraq, is a drug addict. "Categorically false," Schmidt said, adding: "This is crazy."
News organizations routinely ask questions about allegations in an attempt to determine their veracity, and Schmidt did not contend that they were publishing or broadcasting false information about Palin and her family. But he said the media is asking more questions about Palin's pregnant daughter than about Obama's real estate deal with fundraiser Tony Rezko, who recently was convicted on corruption charges. Obama has called that transaction a "boneheaded mistake."
MRC can verify that. In our latest Special Report, Rich Noyes found only two network stories on Rezko this year, as opposed to how many breathless Bristol stories so far? Kurtz concluded:
Perhaps the greatest concern to the McCain campaign is that the constant inquiries, amplified by cable television debates over whether a mother with a pregnant daughter and four other children can effectively function as vice president, will create a perception that her nomination is in trouble. "We are being bombarded by e-mails and phone calls from journalists asking when she will be dropping out of the race," Schmidt said.
It's not just phone calls, either. At the top of Yahoo! news headlines today: a Bloomberg News report on how bookies are finding shorter odds on bets that Palin will drop out.