Seeing a pattern in Paper of Record's coverage of McCain

Life on the road covering a confirmed presidential nominee apparently bores reporters to tears. Instead of covering news, they literally make up controversy to keep themselves from falling asleep. Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter present us with a great example in today’s New York Times reporting on a scandal that isn’t regarding a choice John McCain hasn’t made, sourced by no one on record close enough to give any first-hand accounts of it:

Senator John McCain has long made his decades of experience in foreign policy and national security the centerpiece of his political identity, and suggests he would bring to the White House a fully formed view of the world.

But now one component of the fractious Republican Party foreign policy establishment — the so-called pragmatists, some of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake — is expressing concern that Mr. McCain might be coming under increased influence from a competing camp, the neoconservatives, whose thinking dominated President Bush’s first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war.

The concerns have emerged in the weeks since Mr. McCain became his party’s presumptive nominee and began more formally assembling a list of foreign policy advisers. Among those on the list are several prominent neoconservatives, including Robert Kagan, an author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26, in which he described himself as “a realistic idealist.” Others include the security analyst Max Boot and a former United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton.

Ooooh … sounds serious, doesn’t it? Except that the only people complaining are on the outside looking in. The only person to go on record over this supposed war over John McCain’s foreign policy direction is someone who hasn’t been invited to the battle:

“It maybe too strong a term to say a fight is going on over John McCain’s soul,” said Lawrence Eagleburger, a secretary of state under the first President George Bush, who is a member of the pragmatist camp. “But if it’s not a fight, I am convinced there is at least going to be an attempt. I can’t prove it, but I’m worried that it’s taking place.”

Er, what? Eagleburger switches from present tense to future tense rather glibly. There is going to be an attempt? He can’t prove it, but he’s worried that it’s taking place?

If this sounds familiar, it’s not just deja vu. It’s similar to what the Times did with the non-story over John McCain’s non-affair with Vicki Iseman in February. In that event, the Gray Lady published an allegation of extramarital sex with a lobbyist based on two disgruntled and anonymous former aides, who said that they were worried that McCain might get romantic — and had absolutely no proof that he had ever done so.

The underlying allegation in this article is that McCain is talking to a wide variety of analysts on foreign policy. He hasn’t named them to his team yet, and they are competing for his attention to make their case on the direction of policy in a McCain administration. Somehow, this surprises the New York Times and its cub reporters, Bumiller and Rohter, as well as their editors back at the office. In 150-plus years, this must be the first time the Gray Lady has covered a presidential election.

And why am I not surprised to see Elizabeth Bumiller’s fingerprints on this tawdry attempt to use scary words like “neoconservatives” in conjunction with McCain? (The word appears eight times in the article, by the way.) Bumiller was also the reporter who tried to bait McCain into an argument, reported him as “testy” and that he had “displayed some of the temper that he is known for but that he has largely kept under control in this campaign,” only to become an object of derision when the YouTube of the exchange hit the Internet — and revealed no flash of temper at all. Does Bumiller’s business card read “reporter” or “provocateur”?

Let me assist the New York Times and the maturity-challenged Bumiller. When people run for President, they usually engage with a wide variety of analysts to determine their approach to policy if they win. McCain, unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, has over 24 years of experience on foreign policy and military matters — in fact, he has almost three times as much experience as the two of them put together. He’s going to be his own man on foreign policy and the military, regardless of the worries Eagleburger has.

Perhaps Bill Keller can find a couple of real journalists to cover McCain, and a couple of real editors to weed out the crap before it hits the newsstands.

Update: Rob at Say Anything offers a few more examples:

Yeah, the pattern is really coming into focus now, isn’t it?