Media Buzz

John McCain’s Media Moment: Beltway’s top Syria crusader

Sen. John McCain on White House meeting


Howard Kurtz’s "Media Buzz" program will debut this Sunday at 11 a.m. EST.

John McCain may have lost the 2008 election, but at the moment he seems to be serving as deputy president.

After a rocky relationship with the man who beat him five years ago, the senator emerged from an hour-long meeting at the White House on Labor Day saying he would back Barack Obama for limited airstrikes against Syria under certain conditions. 

“President Gains McCain’s Backing on Syria Attack,” a New York Times headline said.

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McCain, who was accompanied by his wing-man Lindsey Graham, has been all over television since the Syria crisis reached fever pitch. He held forth yesterday on "Today", "Fox & Friends", CNN’s "New Day", "The O'Reilly Factor", and I lost track after that. (He was almost as popular making the rounds as swimmer Diana Nyad.) 

And he made news again this morning, saying he could not support the congressional resolution on Syria as it is currently worded -- an obvious setback for the administration. 

A longtime fixture on the Sunday shows, McCain is always good TV, as the bookers all know. 

He wandered from his Syria commentary yesterday to tell CNN that Vladimir Putin should return the Super Bowl ring he claims he was given by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. You never know when he’s going to call someone a wacko bird.

As perhaps the GOP’s leading hawk, McCain has considerable leverage now that the president has decided to seek congressional approval before striking Syria. 

The Arizona Republican has been a harsh critic of administration inaction on Syria for the past two years, and repeatedly ripped Obama on Libya before the U.S. intervened in that civil war.

While many Republicans (not to mention a whole lot of anti-war Democrats) are wary of another military operation in the Middle East, the price of McCain’s support is that U.S. “reverse the situation on the battlefield,” as he told NBC. He wants any Hill resolution to spell out that the aim of a cruise missile attack is to degrade Syria’s air defenses.

“This is a regional conflict, guys. Don’t forget that,” McCain told Fox.

McCain has told me that he quickly got over his 2008 loss and bore no grudges, but at times during Obama’s first term he came off as prickly toward the Democrat who defeated him. That period coincided with the senator moving to the right to win re-election in Arizona.

But lately, McCain seems to have returned to his roots as a deal-making maverick, and he knows how to seize the media spotlight on national security issues. 

This is a guy who uses congressional recesses to visit places like Kabul and Tripoli, so whether you agree with his aggressive stance or not, he knows his stuff.

Obama can only hope that his old adversary still retains a measure of clout in a Rand Paul party.

Jeff Bezos Says Web Aggregation Hurting Washington  Post

The media world has been anxiously waiting to learn how Jeff Bezos plans to revive the Washington Post.

Turns out he doesn’t know either.

And he says it will take years.

The Amazon founder, who is visiting the property he bought for $250 million, was awfully self-effacing in his first interview, with the paper’s Paul Farhi.

“If we figure out a new golden era at The Post . . . that will be due to the ingenuity and inventiveness and experimentation of the team at The Post,” he said. “I’ll be there with advice from a distance. If we solve that problem, I won’t deserve credit for it.”

Actually, he’ll deserve all kinds of credit, considering that the Post, (where I used to work), has lost money for seven years, slashed staff and hemorrhaged circulation. 

If Bezos can’t figure out how to leverage his Internet know-how to restore a brand as prestigious as the Post, maybe it can’t be done. It’s been strange that he remained silent during the recent flood of pieces and profiles, even in his new paper, until now.

But Bezos’ analysis of what the Post needs is strikingly generic. 

“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient," he said. "If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at The Post, too.”

Perhaps most important, Bezos provides what he calls “runway”—deep-pocketed support while the newspaper tries to figure out its digital future. The purchase price is about 1 percent of his personal fortune, so unlike many new owners who cut costs to squeeze profits from dying papers, he can keep writing checks without losing sleep. 

But ultimately the Post needs to “grow,” not just hang on, he says.

Recalling a conversation with Don Graham, Bezos said he’d thanked the Post CEO for calling him “a businessman, not a magician.”

“In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort," he said. "There’s no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly in this mode. You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don’t know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. ‘Quickly’ in my mind would be years.”

But it turns out that Bezos is as baffled as everyone else by the central paradox of the web: so much stuff is aggregated by sites without paying a dime.

“The Post is famous for its investigative journalism,” he said. “It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment?”

The man who turned Amazon into an online machine generating $61 billion in revenue surely must have some ideas, even if he has no magic wand.

Twitter’s Popularity Contest

You must be dying to know, in our list-obsessed web culture, which journos and pundits are followed by the most members of Congress.

New York Magazine does the math:

1.     Mike Allen, Politico

2.     Chuck Todd, NBC

3.     Chad Pergram, Fox News

4.     Jake Tapper, CNN

5.     Chris Cillizza (The Fix), Washington Post

6.     David Gregory, NBC

7.     George Stephanopoulos, ABC

8.     Bret Baier, Fox News

9.     Joe Scarborough, MSNBC

10.   Dana Bash, CNN

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.