Press Box

McSwoon at the New York Times

Even when the press comes bearing bad news about John McCain, it ties the package up with a pretty bow.

On Sunday, the New York Times published a critical piece about McCain, chronicling how he pushed through legislation that gave lucrative radio licenses to rich clients of influential lobbyists. In the Times’ words, the story “provides a revealing glimpse of how Mr. McCain operates as Commerce Committee chairman”–and, one might add, a telling contrast to his stump rhetoric.

You’d never know this, though, from the way the story was presented. The headline, “McCain Broke With His Party in Licensing Flap,” makes it sound as if McCain took a principled stand against the Republican leadership. (The story itself has almost nothing about this being a party matter.) And the photo! Chin heroically tilted upward and shot from beneath, the out-of-focus stars from a flag in the background forming a halo around his head: It could easily adorn a McCain-for-president campaign brochure, if not a banner in the May Day parade in Moscow circa 1935.

How many readers paged past the story thinking it was a salute to McCain rather than a slam? As former Reagan image manager Michael Deaver liked to say, never mind the words, the pictures are what counts.

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