Last night, McCain aide Mark Salter made an increasingly rare appearance at the back of the press charter plane. Clearly in good spirits, he repeated some of his long-held frustrations about the media but also opened up just a bit about specific hurts (when Time magazine said their Ayers ad was racist) and which reporters at the New York Times he'll still deign to read.
Q: You were saying the other day that you think that perhaps even more than the economy and other things that you had to work against, the unpopularity of the Republican party, that the media’s role has been pretty large.
I didn’t say more—I didn’t say more. I think the environment, the biggest challenge in the environment was the bailout… and the right track number, on top of a president with very low approval ratings and a shitty economy, that’s a pretty bad environment.
“I think there’s always been hesitation about Obama, worries about his experience, there’s always been.”.
Q: It’s a bad environment but also I know that you haven’t made a secret of the fact that you think that the media’s played a role as well.
I think that on top of that, there have been two standards by which the candidates have been judged. Much greater scrutiny for ours than was given to the other guy, for whatever reason. It is what it is.
Q: And what do you think could change that? Can anything change that? Is that something you hope to be able to…
MS: Well, you could beat your head against it, it doesn’t change it, so I don’t know. Maybe there will be a period of self-reflection on the part of the media…
Q: Are you ever going to read The New York Times again Mark?
I don’t know. Marc Santora, John Burns, Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins: they’re great reporters.
Q: What could the media have done differently? Is it just, like, scrutinizing Obama’s record…
Just hold him up to the same standard, OK? If you’re going to run a front-page story on McCain’s rep, make it a campaign. And Obama has spent, oh, some multiple millions more on negative advertising than the McCain campaign has, hold him to that standard, write a front-page story about him, you know? He didn’t need any help with pushing the meta-narrative, he had quite a substantial advantage on pushing pack…he didn’t need to put the thumb on the scale…
Q: Was it mostly the negativity aspect then?
So, you know, I think the other thing…I think we suffered quite a few associative attacks from Obama. At one point I’d guess maybe a third of his advertising budget was for negative ads…No offense to you [to Time reporter Michael Scherer] but you’re the magazine [that did this]: We point out he has associations with Fannie Mae while he’s blaming McCain for the collapse of the housing market. We point out some associations and a Time reporter calls us a racist. OK? It’s out of bounds. If McCain were the Democrat and Obama were the Republican and McCain were a part of the party that defended Fannie Mae from the tide of regulation that John McCain and the Republicans had proposed, and then we blame Obama for being a kind of deregulator, the cause of the housing collapse, when the core of the problem is obviously lending money to people who couldn’t afford to pay it back, which caused, ultimately, a global financial market meltdown and most of the blame is on the Democratic Party, I don’t think the press would let us get away with that. They sure let Obama get away with it.
Q: Do you think that—
I mean, one editorial [in] the Washington Post, called bullshit on it. That was it. Whenever we did anything everyone jumped on us.
Q: [Why isn’t Wright] a legitimate issue—the guy is a kook, he’s a kook, he accused America of creating the AIDS virus and…
Because at the time it was raised, [Obama] gave his speech on race and ultimately denounced it. Someone did raise it and McCain said at the time “asked and answered” and “I’m not gonna push it” and he kept his word. You know, for a period of time, before we called bullshit on it, Obama got to run around the country implicitly suggesting that we were going to run a racist campaign against him, until we called bullshit on him. And then the media did it...which I felt was tactical… and grossly unfair. Having said all that, I didn’t come back here to whine about the press.
Q: It doesn’t include us, we know. [Laughs]
We feel pretty good.
Q: What do you say your chances are?
We think we got a decent shot at catching the guy today. You know, I think there’s been a lot of tightening in all the battleground states. Feeling very happy about it. Kind of feathered back our ad buy in Colorado and basically the numbers popped.
Q: What do you think…if you could choose two [reasons why it's tightening]…
I think the natural polarization of the country, the natural divide, we’re pulling some soft Democrats away from him. I think more independents are breaking more our way than his, late deciders.
Q: Why do you think that is?
I think we’re breaking through on the message we’ve been driving pretty consistently for two weeks and I think there’s always been hesitation about Obama, worries about his experience, there’s always been.
Q: Those are two different things…
No, our message has been both those things.
Q: Your message is economic.
The economic and the experience quote…
Q: Do you think using the term socialist – you sort of backed away from that, was that anticipated?
We didn’t, really. One radio script, referenced socialism, the only time John McCain uses [that word] now, is when he makes a perfectly legitimate argument: The National Journal says he’s more liberal than the guy who used to run as a socialist. Just a fact.