Newsweek Asks McCain: How Can You Beat 'Hugely Gifted' Obama?

Presumptive GOP nominee John McCain granted an interview to Newsweek’s Jon Meacham and Holly Bailey, and in the first sign of a long, uphill campaign with the media, McCain was asked how he could defeat such a "hugely gifted politician" in a "brutal year on a clinical level for any Republican to be running." Newsweek’s duo (or most plausibly, Newsweek editor Meacham) lectured McCain not to use a line about change we can’t believe in: "Watching, it struck me that fighting on somebody else's rhetorical field and offering a negative as opposed to a positive is not the most vigorous way forward." When asked about his critiques of the media, McCain buckled under pressure and pledged not to say anything critical about his press coverage.

NEWSWEEK: Sir, Senator Obama is a hugely gifted politician. This is a brutal year on a clinical level for any Republican to be running.

McCain: Um-hmm.

So what's the strategy? How do you overcome those two things?

McCain answered (in part): I'm convinced that, using the kind of communications that won me the nomination of my party against significant odds, I will be able to gain the presidency as well. But I think it's got to do with substance, and it's got to do with a concrete plan of action for the future of the country.

The other night you were using the trope "That's not change we can believe in." Watching, it struck me that fighting on somebody else's rhetorical field and offering a negative as opposed to a positive is not the most vigorous way forward.

McCain replied: Well, I think it's an important part of this campaign to point out that everybody wants change, but there is a right change and a wrong change...

Newsweek's duo also tried to set up McCain as more negative and less charitable than the hugely gifted Obama:

I noticed you have gotten under his skin a little bit in terms of saying that "for a young man with no experience he's done quite well."

[McCain Laughs.]

Did you watch him the other night when he accepted—

No, I didn't. I have watched other speeches that he's given, and I certainly admire his eloquence. I have said that a number of times.

In St. Paul, he said, to paraphrase, that he honors your achievements even though you choose to deny his.

We have sharp differences...

Have you noticed it doesn't matter how gentlemanly McCain is on a daily basis, whenever he says something negative enough to please his own partisans, the media paste him as more negative than their candidate?

Even worse, McCain is pledging to be a pacifist when it comes to shooting any criticism at the partisan press corps. Newsweek drew out his media criticism as another sign of his lack of charity:

Want to back up a little bit and talk about press coverage. One of the things that you mentioned in your speech in New Orleans was that you felt that the media hadn't recognized or had overlooked some of the attributes that Hillary Clinton had brought to the race. And I wondered —

I did not — that was in prepared remarks, and I did not — I'm not in the business of commenting on the press and their coverage or not coverage... My supporters and friends can comment all they want about the press coverage, and that's their right. They're American citizens.

It would have been nice if McCain had at least let Newsweek conclude their observation before he started surrendering. He added this no-new-media-criticism pledge:  

I will not because I believe it's not a profitable enterprise for me to do so. I can't change any of the coverage that I know of except to just campaign as hard as I can and try to seek the approval of the majority of my fellow citizens.

It is something that the American people will judge, and I won't complain about it and I won't praise it. I will just run my campaign and hope that the American people will make a judgment.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis