John McCain's Rapid-Fire Responders

Author: Howard Kurtz

While Sen John McCain (R-AZ) enjoys an image as a media darling, based largely on his bantering relationship with reporters on his bus, he and his presidential campaign aides have been hitting back hard against high-profile news reports they regard as inaccurate or unfair. The result is a more contentious relationship between the presumed Republican nominee and major news organizations than is publicly apparent. "If stories are wrong, we have an absolute obligation to say so, and to say so as loudly as we can," said Mark Salter, McCain's longtime confidant, who writes the rebuttal letters. "It's not working the refs. It's just correcting things when the refs blow a call." The McCain camp also circulates these letters to conservative radio hosts and bloggers, hoping to provide an alternative narrative for the press. "There is no point in calling the reporter," said McCain strategist Steve Schmidt. "There is no point in calling the [story] editor." When confronted with untrue accusations, he said, "we will use that to communicate with our supporters and donors to take advantage of the unfairness." This approach contrasts sharply with the popular image of Sen McCain as enjoying a cozy relationship with media organizations that he has jokingly called "my base." That image is rooted in reality: McCain allows reporters to question him for hours at a time, is a frequent talk show guest and mingles easily among the media elite. On the trail, journalists enjoy his sarcastic sense of humor and have provided him with generally favorable treatment.
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