Reading Liberally: McCain's Free Ride

Ever wonder how McCain got where he is? Why after all the flip-flops, the slip-ups, and the just flat-out-inappropriate jokes, McCain continues to credibly crawl toward the White House? If so, then Free Ride: John McCain and the Media proves to be indispensable reading (not to mention that it is one of the two books that will be discussed at next Tuesday’s first-ever meeting of Reading Liberally NYC!).

As authors David Brock and Paul Waldman convincingly assert, John McCain has a singular, privileged relationship with the media-- one that allows all of his numerous scandals and gaffes to be overlooked or, worse, miraculously incorporated into his constructed image as a "maverick" a "moderate" and a "straight-talker." As the authors put it in their online follow-up to the book: "When a candidate changes his position as a response to the politics of the moment and the press ignores it, he's lucky. When he changes his position and the press goes out of its way to say how principled he is for not changing his position, he's John McCain."

Incredibly, despite the alternative media’s constant coverage of McCain’s falsely positive press presence, the mainstream news continues to turn a blindly accepting eye. Take, for example, how the LA Times reported McCain’s spin on his previous comment on the “disgrace” that is social security, rather than his initial words. Add to that the Associated Press’s sustained failure to report on McCain’s changing immigration policy , and a clear pattern begins to emerge—one that Waldman and Brock delve into extensively (almost redundantly) in their work.

Essentially, Free Ride delivers a one-two punch: first illuminating the mythological public image of McCain, and then knocking it to the ground with facts about McCain’s actual policy decisions and personal flaws. What emerges from all the rubble is a John McCain that is a far cry from the glowingly imagined anti-politician: a McCain who is (hypocritically) opportunistic and scheming, who is prone to furious outbursts in which he calls his senate colleagues “shit head” and “fucking jerk.”

While the book is somewhat imperfect (it sometimes lacks clear organization, and occasionally throws in so many examples of media hypocrisy that the evidence for each individual case falls flat) it certainly achieves its ultimate point: readers will see a McCain stripped of his media halo, who seems to be an unfitting and even dangerous candidate for commander-in-chief.