The limits of media manipulation

Matt deftly summarizes something I've been thinking about, since the days of the Clinton campaign:

The Obama team is constantly frustrating progressive bloggers and news junkies by being extremely cavalier about the news cycle. They don't seem especially interesting in pouncing on gaffes or in responding to accusations, and they're not especially quick on the draw or generous with talking points. Instead, they have a very inner-directed approach that's all about building and cultivating the Obama brand to their own specifications and on their own schedule. The McCain campaign's not like that at all. They're obsessed with winning the news cycle and they're good at it. But they're much less interested in the McCain brand. That's one thing you see with the "POW! POW! POW!" schtick -- McCain's war record is a great asset so they don't hesitate to bust it out in all kinds of situations irrespective of the fact that busting it out constantly undermines the asset and creates a powerful negative counter-narrative. What you see with the Palin pick, from a political strategy point of view, is I think the McCain campaign's focus on winning the news cycle taken to a myopic and senseless extreme.

I think it was Ken Auletta who said that there was no left or right-wing bias in media--only a bias toward the bottom line. The McCain strategy has pay-offs for both media and for the campaign. Basically McCain's people need only release a fulminating press release or screen a commercial for an assemblage of reporters to get some free publicity. Meanwhile news orgs, get to generate content simply by either quoting dueling spokespeople, "strategists" of dubious repute, or cribbing from the latest press release.

This is the essence of McStory--but it seems to me to have limited returns and serious risks. First, "dominating the news-cycle" is the sort of thinking that flatters reporters and encourages them to give a campaign points whether or not there is any discernable impact. It gives the news-media an unearned sense of importance and makes people think MSNBC was somehow more decisive in the Democratic primary than team Obama's superior knowledge of the primary system.

Second--as Matt says--there is a point when "dominating the news-cycle" becomes a strategy of fear, in which you're just reacting to your opponents latest move. Palin strikes me as exactly that--We'll show the Democrat Party that they aren't the only ones who can make history. I smelled trouble when the McCain camp said they wouldn't name a VP until Obama had his own. We see the marks of that thinking all over the Palin pick. With minimal vetting and only a single face to face meeting, McCain's people picked a candidate who could hold the future of the human race in her hands. The most important rationale for the pick seems to be Joe Biden.

And so it worked--they owned the cycle and Obama's lovely speech was, at least partially, shunted aside. But here is the rub: Getting Chris Matthews to change the subject can't erase the 38 million people who watched that speech, a feat that Obama didn't need to game the "news-cycle" to achieve--he just had to show up. Moreover, expect that after a few days of glowing coverage, and every reporter worth her salt will do the vetting that McCain should have done. At that point, I expect the GOP nominee will learn a valuable lesson--in any game with the news cycle, the news cycle always wins.