The McCain campaign ramped up its criticism of the press on Friday, calling the fourth estate an embarrassment and shameful for the way it has scrutinized Joe The Plumber -- the Senator's symbolic middle-class supporter.
"The media has spent more time trying to find out every nook and cranny on those two then that have don't [on Obama]," declared Michael Steele, former Lt. Gov. of Maryland during a conference call on Friday. "Joe asked Barack Obama a question [on tax policy]. He did not put on the table anything about his life or circumstances... Barack Obama's response is the true issue here. It is not the questioner or the question. And the fact that the media has taken off on this guy tells us that our press in this election cycle is suspect at best."
Steele added: "I hope we never see this level of performance from the media in an election ever again."
During Wednesday's debate, McCain referenced Joe the Plumber repeatedly as the living embodiment of an individual who would suffer under Barack Obama's tax policies. In the day that followed, moreover, Wurzelbacher (his true last name) held an impromptu press conference outside his Ohio home to discuss his disdain for social security, his critiques of Obama's economic agenda, and his support for the war.
All of which prompted the press to start digging. In the process it was revealed that Wurzelbacher would see a tax cut under Obama's plan (not a hike), that he wasn't actually a licensed plumber, and that he had not paid a portion of his state income taxes. And so, after thrusting him into the center of the media spotlight and hoping to benefit from the positive imagery that Joe the Plumber engendered, the McCain campaign was fuming come Friday.
"They are now attacking a gentlemen form Ohio who had the temerity to ask Barack Obama about his tax plans and the Obama-friendly media are going right along with it," said Douglas Holtz Eakin, a McCain economic adviser.
The war between the McCain camp and the press has been long-standing, with the Senator's chief strategist launching one of the harshest attacks by accusing the New York Times of no longer being a journalistic institution. Much of that disdain for the media has carried over into the McCain crowds. During the Republican National Convention, the audience taunted the NBC News set (a station that campaign has viewed as hostile). On Friday the anger was brought to a more alarming level when a member of a McCain-Palin crowd physically assaulted a reporter for the North Carolina-based Greensboro News-Record.
I sidled up to one of the Obama supporters and asked why they were there, what they were trying to accomplish.
As he was telling me a large, bearded man in full McCain-Palin campaign regalia got in his face to yell at him.
"Hey, hey," I said. "I'm trying to interview him. Just a minute, okay?"
The man began to say something about how of course I was interviewing the Obama people when suddenly, from behind us, the sound of a pro-Obama rap song came blaring out of the windows of a dorm building. We all turned our heads to see Obama signs in the windows.
This was met with curses, screams and chants of "U.S.A" by McCain-Palin folks who crowded under the windows trying to drown it out and yell at the person playing the stereo.
It was a moment of levity in an otherwise very tense situation and so I let out a gentle chuckle and shook my head.
"Oh, you think that's funny?!" the large bearded man said. His face was turning red. "Yeah, that's real funny..." he said.
And then he kicked the back of my leg, buckling my right knee and sending me sprawling onto the ground.