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Did we get it right or wrong on McCain immigration badminton?

May 28, 2008 |  3:15 am

Media Matters reports that the L.A. Times was among many news outlets that have given readers only a partial view of John McCain's immigration views. Here's the gist from the self-described corrector of conservative misinformation in the U.S. media:

In reporting on Sen. John McCain's efforts to woo Hispanic voters, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the Politico, and Reuters mentioned McCain's previous support for comprehensive immigration reform but did not note that he has since said he would no longer support a comprehensive reform measure he co-sponsored.

Now McCain's flip-flopping on immigration is a topic we report on with borderline obsessiveness at Opinion L.A., and in particular we watch for shifting definitions of "comprehensive" in the McCain vocabulary. I'd also note that McCain got a special grilling over the whole not-voting-for-his-own-bill topic at the Times-sponsored Republican debate this year. Nevertheless, Media Matters is correct that in the specific story it cites, Times reporters Maeve Reston, Noam N. Levey and Scott Martelle noted only that McCain "has a record of pushing immigration overhaul" in the context of describing his possible advantages in the Western states.

Does that even count as an oversight? As Swati Pandey notes in a blog post a few hyperlinks back, McCain has begun working the comprehensive angle back into the campaign, and the rightwing Republicans who make a point of publicly breaking with McCain have noticed that. In fact, McCain's effort to be seen as Latino-friendly is so critical to his Western strategy that to characterize him simply as somebody who has backed away from immigration reform seems to me to get the story especially wrong. He comes across as weirdly circumlocutory in that clip from the Reagan Library debate, but McCain has always described his decision to abandon comp reform with a sighing, world-weary, they-know-not-what-they-do tone. He's been fairly consistent in not claiming either that he's changed his mind or that he was always for tougher border enforcement; instead, he characterizes his shift as an acknowledgment of the expressed will of the American People, without ever specifying whether he agrees with that will.

You might say (OK, I might say) McCain has pretty deftly positioned himself to be seen as a pro-immigration candidate even though (or because) he pays conditional and grudging lip service to the restrictionists' concerns. Whatever your feelings on immigration, that would seem to be the more interesting story here than some imagined conservative misinformation campaign.

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