After the Weekly Standard magazine came out with a cover story on “The Media’s Favorite Republican,” Senator John McCain, he went on the Fox Sunday news program, apparently to prove how popular he was. McCain’s credentials as a conservative have been in question for some time, but his role in pushing a tobacco bill to dramatically raise taxes and expand government convinced many that he may be a liberal at heart. No panelist on the Fox program brought up the Weekly Standard article, so McCain himself raised it, using a question about his conservatism to mention how the magazine had gone after him. It gave McCain and some of the panelists on the show the opportunity to have a few laughs.
Just as the show was going off the air, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard asked where McCain had gotten his much-publicized figure about 3,000 teenagers a day starting smoking. This claim was used by McCain, President Clinton and others to push the tobacco bill. They claimed the tobacco bill would somehow stop teenagers from taking up the habit. As for the source, McCain cited “The Centers for Disease Control, every former Surgeon General since 1973, every national health organization…They’re the only ones.” At that point, host Tony Snow chuckled and thanked Senator McCain for his appearance.
The implication was that McCain had gotten the better of that exchange, and that he had fully answered the question. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a new AIM Report on the issue, we point out that the figure about 3,000 teenagers a day starting smoking is bogus. The source is a Centers for Disease Control study that includes 20 year-olds, who are not teenagers. In some formulations of this claim, it is alleged that 3,000 “kids” start smoking every day. But it’s difficult to regard 20 year-olds as “kids.”
On the very day that McCain was basking in the limelight of the Fox program, the Washington Post was confirming his status as the media’s favorite Republican by running a front-page article about him. The article examined whether McCain could get the Republican presidential nomination in the year 2000.
The article pointed out, “McCain has been lionized in the media and elsewhere for his battles to reform campaign finance laws and reduce teenage smoking.” Once again, the media were promoting the claim that McCain’s tobacco bill would somehow have reduced teenage smoking. Yet there is no evidence for this claim.
On the issue of campaign finance reform, the Post failed to point out that his bill would reduce the ability of ordinary citizens and their organizations to influence the outcome of the elections through independent advertising campaigns. However, the media would retain their ability to influence those same elections through editorials and news coverage. In fact, the McCain bill would actually increase the power of the media by restricting the ability of those other groups to have an impact on those elections. The bottom line is clear: The media favor McCain as a candidate because they agree with his policies. This gives him a big edge.