For many years now I've been wrting about the odd media double standard whereby reporters refuse to make judgments about policy disputes, even when they involve objective factual questions, but are wildly judgmental about questions of personal character. A couple weeks ago I pointed out this example from the New York Times. John McCain, the Times reported,
proclaimed himself a believer in the notion that cutting taxes increases revenue for the government by spurring economic growth. “Don’t listen to this siren song about cutting taxes,” Mr. McCain told supporters gathered here under a tent in a driving rain. “Every time in history we have raised taxes it has cut revenues."
Of course this is just a demonstrably false factual statement, but the reporter made no effort at all to point this out. I have a chapter about this in my book -- reporters, for some reason, simply don't feel it's their place to inform readers about the truth of politicians' claims about policy.
But character -- well, that's a different story. There reporters feel free to pass off completely subjective judgments as fact. Today's Washington Post offers a classic example. A front page story reports, "McCain will also run on a biography that has shown character and courage and a willingness to buck convention." That's a fact? Doesn't McCain have critics who think he's a hypocritical opportunist?
I'm not saying I don't think McCain has shown character and courage -- he has, though other times he's shown the opposite. But this is a perfect example of a completely subjective judgment passed off as fact. And it shows a major reason why McCain will be such a formidable candidate. McCain is weak on policy but is perceived to have strong personal traits. The rules of the media game thus benefit him enormously.