Is Newsweek's February 18 cover story about conservative hatred for Republican presidential candidate John McCain a preview of how the mainstream media will attack the Arizona senator if he wins the nomination?
Before you answer, consider first the cover pictured to the right, with an obviously concerned McCain looking up at top conservative personalities amid the headline, "There Will Be Blood."
Not too subtle, is it?
Neither was the content of the article (emphasis added throughout):
As McCain draws closer to the GOP nomination, many leaders of the conservative movement have gone into convulsions. The biggest headline-grabber was [Ann] Coulter, who, true to form, seemed to set a new low for immoderation. But that didn't stop a slew of other prominent hard-right pundits, most on talk radio, from trying to outrant her. Rush Limbaugh, the most popular right-wing radio host, had been railing against McCain for years, and now declared that if he were nominated, "it's going to destroy the Republican Party." "He's just a lousy senator and a terrible Republican," said Hugh Hewitt, another syndicated talk-show host. "His votes the past seven to 10 years have been on the wrong side of the issues." The revolt went beyond talk radio's political shock jocks. James Dobson, one of the nation's most prominent evangelical Christian leaders, declared he could not "in good conscience" vote for McCain and endorsed Mike Huckabee-the first time Dobson had ever taken sides in a GOP primary.
Newsweek seemed to revel in the right's restlessness:
Other right-wing pundits counterattacked in what has become a case of a party's base bringing chaos out of order. Bill Bennett, the onetime drug czar and conservative Washington pundit who now has his own show, asked his fellow radio hosts to tone things down. "Who is he to say that?" retorted one of them, Michael Savage, who sometimes rivals Coulter in controversy. "He's got a minuscule audience and no credibility. If he wants to start some internecine war, then here we go: he's a blowhard." The uncivil war also pulled in some stalwarts of the GOP "base," such as Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "Rush is even ranting against me," Land tells NEWSWEEK. "I had the temerity to challenge the Great One in his all-knowing wisdom. Rush is underestimating the ability of Hillary or [Barack] Obama to unite conservatives around McCain. Rush says on air, 'Dr. Land, I'll tell you, I talk to 20 million people a day.' No he doesn't. He talks at 20 million people a day."
Then, Newsweek made it clear how serious an issue this is for McCain:
As the country learned anew in 2000 and 2004, every vote counts-especially every vote in states (like Ohio) where the margin of victory in a general election is likely to be narrow. If even a handful of conservatives were to follow the Limbaugh-Coulter line and stay home, it could make a real difference.
Although this might end up being true, is Newsweek trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Think about it: although mainstream media outlets are much friendlier towards McCain than most Republicans, they certainly won't be trying to assist his efforts if he does indeed win the GOP nomination.
Their pony in this race will certainly be a donkey.
So, maybe the strategy will be to continually point out how conservatives hate McCain, while stoking such sentiments, so as to limit conservative turnout on Election Day:
Now McCain is "unwilling to bow and kiss the ring" of his antagonists, says one adviser, who didn't want to be named fanning any flames. (Regarding Coulter, another top McCain aide snorts-anonymously, for the same reason-"I don't care what she thinks.") Do their diatribes bother McCain? "I don't listen to them ... I've never even met them," McCain says. "I don't even listen to Rush ... I'm not a masochist." Asked if it wouldn't make his life simpler to call Dobson and seek common ground, McCain shrugs. "I know what it takes to unite the party," he says. He needs to put that knowledge into action, and fairly soon. It seems possible that the conservative movement-the dominant force in American politics since the Reagan Revolution-has become so dogmatic that it might choose purity over victory.
Is this Newsweek's modus operandi? Will this be media's strategy if McCain ends up being the GOP nominee?