Opinion: After 40 long days John McCain answers five (5!) media questions

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... Finally!

After 40 days of avoiding the national media like Joe Lieberman avoiding the Senate’s Democratic caucus lunches, John McCain held a press conference on Tuesday in Freeland, Mich. No, really.

The media avail was a far cry from the days when McCain’s campaign wasn’t doing very well and he spent hours chatting up and with reporters -- whom he once called ‘my base’ -- on the Straight Talk Express. Today, he took five whole questions, largely dealing with the proposed federal government bailout of financial firms.


McCain declined to say what would amount to a deal breaker but said he did not support Democrats’ proposal to add an economic stimulus package:

I don’t think anything should be added to this legislation. This legislation should stand on its own. Secondly, the way out of this is to grow our economy. Cut spending. Keep taxes low. Make sure there are incentives in place for jobs and businesses to grow and flourish.

Though the press conference was short, it was more access than ever offered by running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has yet to hold a full media avail since she was named the GOP’s vice presidential nominee last month, although she has been interviewed by hand-selected reporters. On Tuesday, Palin’s staff nearly incited a riot when it tried to deny reporters what limited access they’d been promised.

The rare media access to McCain also comes at a time when his campaign is increasingly slamming the media as biased. On Monday, campaign honcho Steve Schmidt came out with both barrels aimed squarely at the New York Times.

‘Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization. It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization,’ he said during a conference call. ‘This is an organization that is completely, totally, 150% in the tank for the Democratic candidate.’

Last month, at the Republican National Convention, Palin drew some of her loudest cheers when she said, '... here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion -- I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country.’

Such a technique is known as ‘playing the refs,’ in hopes that the ink-stained wretches will become self-conscious and provide softer, gentler coverage. It also clearly fires up some in the Republican base, who view the mainstream media as lapdogs for the liberal left.

To be sure, much has been made in that media of the lack of press access to the Republican ticket, while, as CNN’s Political Ticker aptly notes, little has been said there about the absence of Joe Biden media availabilities since Sept. 7.

And, who knows, it might change the topic of discussion off this awful economic mess that’s supposed to benefit the Democrats. Whether it will be a successful gambit through November remains to be seen.

-- Seema Mehta