John McCain's struggles in formal speaking environments prompted a front-page Sunday story by Mark Leibovich, "McCain Battles a Nemesis, the Teleprompter." Leibovich opened with the candidate's latest futile struggle against what is apparently his greatest enemy:
Senator John McCain was performing relatively smoothly as he unveiled his energy plan.
He managed to limit the mechanical hand chops and weirdly timed smiles that can often punctuate his speeches. He delivered his lines with an ease that suggested a momentary peace with his longtime nemesis, the teleprompter. (He relied on a belt-and-suspenders approach, with text scrolling down screens to his left and right, and on a big TV set in front of him.)
But when Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, came to the intended sound bite of his speech - the part about reducing America's dependence on foreign oil - he hit a slick.
"I have set before the American people an energy plan, the Lex-eegton Project," Mr. McCain said, drawing a quick breath and correcting himself. "The Lex-ing-ton Proj-ect," he said slowly. "The Lexington Project," he repeated. "Remember that name."
In a town meeting in Cincinnati the next day, Mr. McCain would again slip up on the name of the Massachusetts town, where, he noted, "Americans asserted their independence once before." He called it "the Lexiggdon Project" and twice tried to fix his error before flipping the name ("Project Lexington") in subsequent references.
Mr. McCain's battle of Lexington is part of a struggle he is engaged in every day. A politician who has thrived in the give-and-take settings of campaign buses, late-night TV couches and town meetings, he now is trying to meet the more formal speaking demands of a general election campaign.
To prove his point that McCain is not a natural at the podium, Leibovich forwarded insults of McCain from the liberal comedy show "The Colbert Report." Then he replayed some of McCain's greatest gaffes.
[Campaign adviser Mark] Salter bemoans the current environment, in which, he said, "the press creates the expectation that you better not stumble on a word, or tell a joke that Mr. Rogers wouldn't tell, or you're going to be in trouble."
There are any number of Web videos of Mr. McCain to prove the point. They include the moment he playfully called a young man a "jerk" at a town-hall-style meeting in New Hampshire last year after he asked Mr. McCain if his age made him a candidate for Alzheimer's disease in the White House (Mr. McCain typically uses jerk as a term of affection), or when he suggested to Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" that he brought him a special gift from Iraq - an improvised explosive device.
Small misstatements become instant YouTube fodder - as when Mr. McCain vowed to "veto every single beer" that included lawmakers' pet spending projects (he meant "bill") or when he said the government should have been able to deliver "bottled hot water" to dehydrated babies in New Orleans. (It is fortunate for Mr. McCain that there was no YouTube in the 1980s when he jokingly referred to the retirement community Leisure World as "Seizure World.")
The Times has shown consistent interest in John McCain, Republican gaffe machine - but has yet to mention in its news coverage Barack Obama saying he had visited "57 states" during the campaign (a clip also on YouTube, since that seems to matter to the Times). Nor has the paper mentioned Obama seeing "fallen heroes" in a Memorial Day crowd or thinking that Hitchcock actually filmed the climactic chase scene in "North by Northwest" at Mt. Rushmore, as opposed to a studio set.