The media's coming McCain "comeback" narrative?

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Nate Silver at Fivethirtyeight.com notes that Matt Drudge is hyping the smallest of poll upticks for John McCain and suggests Drudge is "priming a McCain reboot narrative":

Something is a little bit funny when Matt Drudge is treating 1-2 point gains for McCain in the Rasmussen and Zogby tracking polls as "BREAKING" news. Naturally, Drudge ignores other results like the just-released ABC/WaPo poll that show Obama continuing to gain ground.

Drudge has a nose for news, and he knows that a one-point gain in a tracking poll is not news -- unless someone desperately wants it to be.

Drudge's headline, under a picture of a smiling McCain, is "READY FOR COME BACK?" That headline links to a Politico article by Mike Allen headlined "Struggling McCain debuts comeback speech."

Which seems as good a time as any to look back at Howard Fineman's admission that the news media "want[ed] a race" in 2000, and was unwilling to allow the last weeks of the campaign to consist of Al Gore's "triumphant march to the presidency."

Here's a September 21, 2000 exchange between Brian Williams and Howard Fineman:

HOWARD FINEMAN: The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore. And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin - when he's ahead especially I think - talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class. I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial trilateral commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?

HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.

We want a race I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.

UPDATE: A reader points out that New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney made a similar statement in today's paper:

Campaigns have rhythms, and inevitably swing back and forth for all kinds of reasons, including mistakes by candidates (think Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants) and the news media's desire for a competitive race and tendency to find the "underdog is surging" story line irresistible. The pendulum theory is certainly one that Republicans are grabbing onto these days.

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