Gotcha Fatigue?

It’s just one poll, but a Pew Resarch survey of 1,000 adults 18 and over found that of those who knew about the New York Times story about John McCain’s relationship to a female communications lobbyist, a majority (57%) said it was wrong to publish it.

Sadly, the survey was not able to drill down and find out why they thought it was wrong to publish it and whether they thought the story was factually inaccurate or an allegation grafted to much back-story about McCain’s well-documented history–the Keating Five, some letters to the FCC regarding various transactions. All worth the scrutiny they got at the time, but old news now.

There have been complaints that it was a "gotcha" story, meant to take the wind out of a conservative Republican candidate–sorry talk show hosts, he is a conservative–though the paper’s own editorial page endorsed him among the Republican field. And there was sniping that the personal relationship allegation was based on unnamed sources. Not the best way to get the story, but sometimes the only way.

The Republicans on the Pew panel were against the story in a landslide–75%–but even the Democrats were slightly against the paper’s publication of the story–47% to 45%.

That seems a surprising result on balance, but it may be less about politics and more about the sense that it was a "gotcha" story, meant to hobble his candidacy since it included a lot of dredging up of old stories attached to the new allegation.

I know a lot of the stories were old because I went back and dredged some of them up, including several from former B&C staffer Bill McConnell that went over much of the same ground about letters to the FCC and questions about travel on Bud Paxson’s plane.

But the new allegation was really used more as a device to lead into the larger piece about the degree to which the government reformer was living in a glass house, which is a fair criticism to make as he prepares to try and take the White House.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.