When John McCain selected Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate, pundits and reporters saw the move as more proof of McCain's "maverick" nature--despite the fact that Palin's selection would seem in large part to be an attempt to placate the Republican Party base, further undermining his media-sustained reputation as an independent politician who breaks with his party.
The day after the announcement, a Washington Post headline (8/30/08) declared, "With Pick, McCain Reclaims His Maverick Image." The following day, a Post subhead was "Fellow Maverick Survived McCain's Thorough Vetting Process, Aides Say."
On NBC's Chris Matthews Show (8/31/08), reporter Norah O'Donnell asserted, "He's trying to recapture the maverick label." Fellow panelist Howard Fineman of Newsweek weighed in: "Sure, it's risky, but he had to shake things up, and as his top adviser told me, this is a maverick picking a maverick." O'Donnell later added: "All the headlines in the papers were 'Maverick chooses maverick.' McCain couldn't be happier with the headlines the day after."
On NBC's Meet the Press (8/31/08), reporter Andrea Mitchell explained that McCain "has returned to the original John McCain, the maverick." Her explanation, though, actually provided more evidence of the opposite; she explained that McCain had wanted to nominate Sen. Joe Lieberman, but that was "shot down by the conservative base."
The usual definition of a political maverick involves a willingness to defy a party and its base; for years McCain has enjoyed such a reputation with journalists, though the actual evidence for that has been wildly exaggerated by the press. (McCain's voting record has for years been among the most conservative in the Senate--see Extra!, 5-6/08.)
For the media, the storyline for McCain seems to be that he's a maverick just because he's John McCain. Weighing McCain's decision to choose either Palin or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, John Harwood wrote in the New York Times (9/1/08), "Both choices offered the opportunity to reinforce Mr. McCain's image as a free-wheeling maverick." For much of the mainstream media, there is no other way to describe John McCain--no matter what reality is telling you.