Has The Press Sent McCain A Dear John?

(AP Photo)
It's not a good sign when much of the discussion of your presidential campaign involves people asking whether or not it's dead.

But that's what's happening with John McCain, whose possible collapse as a viable candidate was the talk of media and political news junkies this weekend. On "Reliable Sources," the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman talked with my Facebook friend Howard Kurtz about a "media death watch" for the former frontrunner:

"Well, on Friday, Senator McCain made his first public campaign appearance since the news broke that he was virtually out of money, that his two top campaign officials had left," she said. "And I don't think I've ever seen so many national political reporters in one place at this point in the cycle. They were all there. And the questions were, you know, 'Is there any way you're going to get out of the campaign?'"

Then there was that Saturday Washington Post piece tracking the struggles in the McCain camp, which came with the tagline "When a Campaign Implodes." On "Meet The Press," Tim Russert asked simply, "Is the campaign done?" (Said the panelists, more or less: No, yes, yes, yes.) Bob Schieffer, on "Face The Nation," wondered if McCain is going to make it to the first primary. Google news is full of stories about how McCain could be finished.

So the question now becomes: Can all the negative coverage actually play to McCain's advantage?

Before last week, his campaign was seen as sputtering, but it now seems to have hit rock bottom. And that primes a narrative-oriented press corps to start writing about how McCain has begun to turn the tide. "It's not going to take much for a 'McCain comeback' storyline to develop," says First Read. Stories are emerging about McCain's new stragegy – survival – and his shift from a frontrunner campaign to that of a spirited comebacker. The mainstream media does have a certain weakness for former "media darling" McCain -- and America does love a comeback story.

Still, it's a long shot. As Dan Balz pointed out on "Face the Nation," Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry all came back to win their nomination. But even if a presidential candidate can get the media working for him, he still needs money – and a staff. "…you can't say this can't happen," said Balz. "But I think, when you look at the course of this campaign, this would be one of the most remarkable comebacks..Their view is that this is still an unstable Republican race, and it is. But boy, they've got such problems."