Today's Washington Post reports that "Barack Obama's campaign accused Sen. John McCain of running a 'disgraceful, dishonorable campaign'" and that Joe Biden "also joined in accusing McCain of shameful tactics" and that "Obama said the Republican had let 'lies and spin consume a campaign that should be about you, should be about the issues, the great challenges of our time.'"
Those are serious allegations. But the Post article doesn't give readers any indication of what Obama and Biden were talking about, or whether their criticisms were based in reality. It gave readers no way to assess the validity of the descriptions of McCain. Has McCain been using "lies and spin" in his campaign? If so, that's the story - and if not, readers should know that Obama is lying about McCain lying.
As it happens, pretty much every major news organization in the country, including the Washington Post itself, has recently pointed out that McCain and his campaign aren't telling the truth, so Obama's reference to McCain lying seems accurate. But either way, the Post has a responsibility to help readers assess the validity of the charge, not to simply quote it. Instead, the Post article gives the impression that Obama and Biden are simply hurling baseless insults at McCain. Coincidentally, that's exactly what John McCain wants people to think:
Earlier in the day, after the Illinois senator made similar remarks at a stop in western Colorado, McCain pushed back. "Friends, Senator Obama's been saying some pretty nasty things about me and Governor Palin," McCain said. "That's okay; he can attack if he wants. All the insults in the world aren't going to bring change to Washington, and they're not going to change Senator Obama's record."
So, Barack Obama says John McCain is lying; John McCain says Barack Obama is just offering "insults." By not exploring the factual basis for what Obama says, the Post is, in effect, taking McCain's side.
Instead of including examples of what it knows are dishonest claims by McCain, which would help readers assess Obama's charges, the Post simply refers to "a string of tactical successes by McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, over the past two weeks."
Those "tactical successes" include a series of claims that the Washington Post has previously concluded are false. Calling them "tactical successes" without any further explanation seems like a textbook case of putting lipstick on a pig.