HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER…. David Brock and Paul Waldman, in a great book called “Free Ride,” take on the fawning, almost sycophantic, relationship between the national political media and John McCain. A fair amount of time is spent exploring the myth of the “maverick”: “Perhaps no word has been used to describe John McCain more often than “maverick.” In January and February of 2008 alone, McCain was called a “maverick” more than 1,300 times in newspapers and on television. And those who use the label to describe McCain rarely explain just what he has done to earn it.”

“Free Ride” was written several months ago, but it’s funny how the observations are as accurate as ever. Consider this video, put together by the fine folks at ThinkProgress, documenting the extent to which major media outlets have rediscovered their love of the “maverick” brand.

What’s striking about this is not just that the media has bought the McCain campaign’s pitch hook, line, and sinker, it’s that none of these media personalities can back up this incessant, borderline nauseating, talk about McCain’s “maverick” status with anything substantive.

Quick quiz: name three major issues in which John McCain — the current incarnation, not the previous version(s) — breaks with his party. Don’t say “earmarks,” because Bush has railed against earmarks in both of his campaigns. Don’t say “corruption,” because the Republican Party is not objectively pro-corruption. Don’t say “reform,” because it doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s tied to specific policies.

We’re left with a candidate who agrees with Bush on every major area of public policy, and presents a policy agenda for the future that is wholly in line with his party’s mainstream. That makes him a “maverick,” because … well, he says so.

I mind the media using the frame hand-picked by the McCain campaign, but that’s only part of the problem. The real scandal here is the media picking this up for no reason.

If the media is going to shower McCain with praise, and reinforce campaign messages that appeal to independent voters, is it too much to ask that he at least pretend to earn it?

Don’t answer that; it’s a rhetorical question.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.