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John McCain's underdog campaign in 2000 was one of the great surprises of recent presidential politics; portraying himself as a maverick and an outsider, McCain managed to get closer to the nomination than anyone expected. Then in 2004, there was rampant speculation in the media that McCain would join John Kerry's campaign as vice president. Even more surprising to many was his emergence after 2004 as the GOP front-runner for 2008. Conventional wisdom had it that a maverick like McCain could never become his party's leader.
Yet the conventional wisdom has been wrong—in fact, McCain has never been the straight shooting maverick he claims to be. In Free Ride, David Brock and Media Matters for America cut through the myths surrounding McCain to show how he has benefited from a unique media bias in his favor. They show how McCain's record has always been that of a staunch conservative, even as the media has portrayed him as an independent. They show how the media has looked the other way when McCain has uttered offensive comments that would have sunk other candidates. We see how the press has overlooked the Arizona senator's hypocrisies and policy reversals even as it has called other candidates flip floppers for the same actions.
Ultimately, we see how McCain has learned to use the media to his advantage, by playing to their hunger for "authenticity." In a political world that is increasingly scripted, McCain has figured out how to play the candid, outspoken candidate and thereby make journalists feel he's different from the rest. This is a must read for any political junkie frustrated by the ways in which the media shapes our political culture.
“The press loves McCain. We're his base.” —Chris Matthews, MSNBC
“John McCain is clearly the Washington media's favorite Republican.” —Brit Hume, Fox News
“The media, of course, loves John McCain because it seems like he's back to the old John McCain.” —David Shuster, MSNBC
“I think every last one of them [reporters] would move to Massachusetts and marry John McCain if they could.” —Joe Scarborough, MSNBC