BOW Award and the Battle for the News Cycle
October 26, 2008
First, an apology for not posting this week’s BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award earlier, and for not having more content on the blog this week. I was busy polishing the manuscript of the third and final Blood of the Southlands book for submission, and then I ran into ISP problems that have made it difficult to post since late in the week. I’m posting this from a coffee house in town that has wifi. I’m hoping that the problems will be ironed out by midweek. But on to the BOW Award . . .
At this stage in a Presidential campaign, with only a couple of weeks (or less) to go, strategy gets broken down into its most basic components. Each day becomes a struggle over the 24 hour news cycle. Win the cycle and you’ve won the day. Win enough days and maybe you’ll win the week. Win the last two weeks and maybe you can pull out the election.
That had to be John McCain’s thinking coming into this week. He was trailing in the polls — the poll average at RealClearPolitics had him down about 5.5 points to Barack Obama. That’s a significant margin, but at the beginning of the week it wasn’t insurmountable. And Barack Obama announced last weekend that he was ceding the national stage to McCain for a couple of days late in the week so that he could visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii. If ever there was a week when McCain could take control of the news cycles, this was it!
Unfortunately for McCain, the week began with Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama. Powell was not only eloquent and generous in his praise of Obama’s intellect, temperament, and perfomance as a campaigner, he was also highly critical of the Republican party in general and John McCain’s campaign and erratic behavior in particular. Not a great way for McCain to start the week.
But then, in the first of our nominated acts of buffoonery, Joe Biden stepped in. While at a private fundraiser, Biden wandered off into a verbal cul-de-sac, saying that within six months of taking office, Obama would be tested by our enemies. These enemies would manufacture an international crisis, Biden said, just as America’s enemies sought to test John Kennedy forty-eight years ago. Now Biden’s point was that Obama was brilliant and capable and would come through this crisis with flying colors. But the McCain campaign and the media picked up on the first part of the comment, pointing out again that Obama is “untested” and “risky.” Obama should have won the first several news cycles of the week based on Powell’s endorsement, but by Tuesday McCain was back in the game.
Or so it seemed. By Wednesday nobody but McCain was talking about Biden’s comments. No, they were on to some new acts of stupidity. First, Sarah Palin had to apologize publicly for her disturbing (not to mention ridiculous) comments last week about some places being “more American” than others. But that was only the beginning. It seems that since the Republican National Convention, the GOP has spent over $150,000.00 on clothes and accessories for Sarah Palin and (to a lesser degree) her family. Shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and other upscale stores, the campaign had used money from donors (many of whom have complained vociferously) to make certain that the self-proclaimed “Hockey Mom” looked more like those Hollywood celebrities the McCain campaign likes to ridicule. The expenditures appeared on the campaign’s FEC report, and the more people looked at that report, the worse things got for the McCain camapaign. For instance, it turns out that the campaign was paying Palin’s make-up person more than they were paying John McCain’s chief foreign policy advisor. Not good.
Then, late in the week, the campaign took a bizarre turn. On Thursday evening, a young McCain campaign worker named Ashley Todd reported that she had been accosted at an ATM in Pittsburgh, where she is working for the campaign, by a six-foot four-inch African American man who stole her money. According to Todd, upon seeing her car, with its McCain-Palin bumper sticker, her assailant became enraged. He beat her, and then, she claimed, carved a “B” into her face with a knife. Horrors! The right-wing blogosphere was suddenly abuzz with outrage! Nothing that had happened at GOP rallies could compare to this! More than one bogger claimed that this would change everything, that Obama’s campaign would suffer greatly because of this, though there was no proof that the man in question had any connection to the campaign. Had the campaign turned around what had seemed to be a terrible news week?
No, it hadn’t. By Friday afternoon it had become clear that Todd made this up. Her story had lots of holes in it, not the least of which was that the surveillance video from the ATM showed that she was never even there. Plus, that “B” on her face? (Wait for it . . .) It was backwards! She did it to herself in a mirror! (Todd admits as much now. And I have to ask, why a “B” Ashley?! Why not an “O”, as in, you know, OBAMA?!?! An “O” is never backwards . . .) Suddenly, what had been an opportunity for the McCain folks became a race-baiting nightmare. The same bloggers who had called it a game changer now wrote that it might be a game ender.
And still the McCain folks weren’t done. There are always process stories that come out of Presidential campaigns. Once the campaign is over stories emerge about those who wanted to take a campaign in one direction or another, or about who had the real power in a campaign. For a winning campaign, these are credit stories; for a losing campaign they’re blame stories. But sometimes when a campaign seems headed for a disaster, these process stories emerge BEFORE the election. People start the blame game early, hoping to avoid being blamed themselves. This weekend has seen a spate of process stories emerging from the McCain camp. Saturday alone several damaging stories emerged about Sarah Palin. She was “going rogue”, one story said — shorthand for going off-message in her campaign appearances — much to the chagrin of John McCain’s advisors. One McCain aide called her “a diva”, prompting another story in which Palin denied that she was a diva. As a general rule, if your vice presidential nominee has to go on record countering claims from your own campaign that she’s a diva, you’re having a bad news cycle.
By the end of the week, McCain had suffered through as bad a news week as he could have imagined, and his deficit in the RealClearPolitics poll average had grown beyond 7.5 points — still not insurmountable, but with only 9 days left until the election a steep climb has become nearly vertical.
So who gets the BOW Award? Do we give it to the Diva, or the campaign workers who called her that, or the party officials who agreed to those exorbitant clothing expenditures, or the campaign worker who made up the story about the big crazy black man, or the right-wing bloggers who embraced that story as if it were a life preserver in a stormy sea? Tough choice. I’m going to rule out Ashley Todd right off, because as terrible as her lie might have been, it takes a sick mind to mutilate oneself in the hope of gaining media attention. She needs psychological help, not a BOW Award.
But as for the rest, I think they all deserve recognition. So this week’s BOW Award goes to Sarah Palin for her terrible comments about “real America” and her expensive taste in clothes, to the McCain campaign for its public airing of its own dirty laundry, to the right-wingers who seized on the Todd story with such zeal, and, yes, to Joe Biden, who continues to demonstrate that he simply can’t keep his mouth shut, even when keeping it shut would do wonderful things for the Obama campaign. Take a BOW there folks, you’ve all earned it. Thank goodness this campaign is almost over.