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McCain Camp Tightens Its Message Discipline

Is the McCain campaign taking its efforts to maintain message discipline to a new extreme? This week, it has not put out any information other than what Sen. John McCain and his surrogates have said publicly. As I wrote yesterday, in past weeks the campaign usually sent reporters 10 or more emails per day pushing the campaign’s message or attacking Sen. Barack Obama — whose campaign does the same.

Aside from an email announcing that the presumed GOP nominee would make a statement and another giving information about set up times for today’s town hall, the campaign sent only one email to reporters yesterday — and that contained the text of the aforementioned statement. Today, the trend continued as the campaign sent out one email containing quotes from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s appearance on Fox News this morning, and another with the Arizona senator’s comments about Georgia as delivered at the town hall meeting in York, Pa.

With Obama on vacation, now would seem to be the time to blast reporters with talking points, videos, conference calls, memos, etc. The news media has a big hole to fill, and one of the principal newsmakers is currently relaxing on a Hawaiian beach. The McCain campaign appears to be taking an different tack: nothing but the message.

McCain will give a speech or make a statement that the cable news networks will cover. If there’s a town hall scheduled he’ll take some questions from the audience, but those are rarely broadcast. Even if they are, they usually focus on a narrow range of predictable issues: immigration, taxes, energy, the war, abortion. Occasionally, there will be an oddball outlier, but generally McCain can answer with talking points. He’ll do some interviews with local media, during which he is usually asked about parochial issues and maybe about who his vice presidential pick will be. This allows McCain to contour his message to whatever locality he happens to be visiting. Other than occasional one-on-one interviews with reporters from the big media outlets, McCain rarely takes questions from the national press, where there is the risk of going off-message. This has happened just twice in the last two weeks, both times late enough on Friday to miss the evening news.

The end result: the campaign has complete control over the national press, which reports only what it is given.

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