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THE PLANK JULY 30, 2008

Good Reporter, Bad Reporter

John McCain and his campaign have been falsely accusing Barack Obama of having cancelled a visit to wounded troops because they learned the media couldn't come along. The media has done an abysmal job of reporting the facts. Finally, in today's Washington Post, Michael Shear and Dan Balz attempt to actually ascertain the truth:

For four days, Sen. John McCain and his allies have accused Sen. Barack Obama of snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true.

This is pretty remarkable. For a contrasting approach to reporting, look at this story in today's New York Times:

In recent days Senator John McCain has charged that Senator Barack Obama “would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign,” tarred him as “Dr. No” on energy policy and run advertisements calling him responsible for high gas prices.

The old happy warrior side of Mr. McCain has been eclipsed a bit lately by a much more aggressive, and more negative, Mr. McCain who hammers Mr. Obama repeatedly on policy differences, experience and trustworthiness.

By doing so, Mr. McCain is clearly trying to sow doubts about his younger opponent, and bring him down a peg or two. But some Republicans worry that by going negative so early, and initiating so many of the attacks himself rather than leaving them to others, Mr. McCain risks coming across as angry or partisan in a way that could turn off some independents who have been attracted by his calls for respectful campaigning.

The article does not even mention, let alone debunk, the troop visit smear. Instead, it's written mostly as political analysis, with Republican strategists bemoaning the potential side effects of McCain being mean. And yes, sometimes it can hurt a candidate to say mean things. But surely the political side effects are a secondary issue to the actual truth or falsity of the accusations. (Sometimes lying is helpful to a candidate!)

In the long run, if we lived in a world where the kind of reporting in today's Post was routine, rather than exceptional, our political process would look very different. In the short run, I wonder if McCain's over-the-top nastiness and dishonesty -- to be honest, the nastiness doesn't bother me, but dishonesty does -- is finally going to start tarnishing his image in the press.

--Jonathan Chait

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posted in: the plank, political relationship, john mccain

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