UPDATED: Liberal bloggers say media-McCain love will be the battleground in the fall

The primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seems far from over (no matter what the numbers say), the war in Iraq just marked its grim 5th anniversary with renewed bloodshed, and a host of issues from domestic spying to the U.S. attorney scandal are still up in the air, too.

No matter. A group of some 150 top liberal political bloggers gathered in Philadelphia this morning, and they declared a new war before there is anything remotely resembling a ceasefire in the old struggles. The focus is GOP presidential candidate John McCain – but that’s the strategic goal of the campaign, not the new tactical weapons.

The left-wing blogosphere is declaring an all-out war against the mainstream media – desperately concerned that inside-the-Beltway reporter-love for D.C. fixture McCain is already creating too large a mountain for any Democratic nominee to scale.

“This campaign is not going to be between the Democrats and the Republicans,” said Philadelphia’s Duncan Black (top), who writes under the name Atrios and whose highly popular progressive political blog, named Eschaton, inspired the gathering of bloggers and political activists called Eschacon '08.

It’s between the Democrats and the media.”

The first panel of the morning at Eschacon – the ballroom of Philly’s Courtyard by Marriottt – focused on the blogosphere as a political tool, and the session was dominated by a sense of frustration that McCain’s personal popularity among mainstream TV talking heads like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews will overshadow any talk of his political liabilities. There was a huge and knowing laugh after the citation of another MSNBC analyst, former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough, and his remark that some male reporters would marry McCain if they were in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher proclaimed frustration that the mainstream media hasn’t picked up upon the blogosphere’s exposure of campaign finance shenanigans by McCain, who bills himself as an ethics reformer, or other flip-flops by the GOP’s presumptive nominee, even his personal ethics. Vermont blogger NTodd Pritsky noted the recent flap when a questioner of Chelsea Clinton mentioned the Monica Lewisnsky scandal.

“People are asking Chelsea Clinton about Monica,” he said. “Why aren’t we asking McCain about Cindy” – his current wife, who McCain left his first wife for after returning from Vietnam – “or some of his lobbyist connections.

“We’re got to be ready to cause pain for the media when they give him a free ride,” Hamsher agreed.

Digby, a widely read pseudononymous blogger from Santa Monica, Calif., agreed and went one further, saying that McCain opponents need to get personal with reporters who seem to favorable to the GOP candidate. “They need to be shamed before their own public,” Digby said.

Nevertheless, it was a little unclear to the panelists – or those in the audience – how to do that. In informal chats after the panel, there was talk of viral email campaigns or other ways to reach everyday voters outside of the news media filter. They realize the problem in undercutting McCain is made even harder by his record as POW in Vietnam.

“He’s now a sleazy politician,” Digby said. “He was a brave POW – but that was 40 years ago!”

UPDATE: Just to clarify -- after some back and forth last night with a high-level reader of this blog and mentor -- I've changed the headline; it would be shocking if liberal bloggers weren't at war with the media OR with John McCain, after all, but what's newsworthy -- especially to those who are more casually engaged with politics -- is that this will be the MAIN point of attack in the summer and fall.

That said, there was a lot of discussion and debate over how to deal with the media love affair (and yes, Virginia, it really does exist) -- how in-your-face and personal to get with allegedly wayward reporters, and what is fair game in undercutting the McCain narrative. For example, as noted above by blogger NTodd (LINK!!!, for cryin' out loud), is McCain's past divorce and speedy remarriage into the rich Arizona family that helped launch his political career in the early 1980s, something to go after?

There's no easy answer to those questions -- nowhere is it more true than in political journalism that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and it's clear that the first impression of McCain is clearly so high that no flip-flop or reversal of principles will change it. (Locallly, I'd say the same teflon quality has been acquired by reporter-friendly Michael Nutter.) As people saw with "Internet inventor" Al Gore in 2000, October is waaaaay too late to change the story line.