Moments before President Bush spoke from the White House about the state of the economy, CNN's Wolf Blitz announced that Bush, "faces an uphill battle to convince the American people he knows what he's doing."
We're all for independently fact-checking candidates during the campaign. In fact, it seems to be all the rage. But who's going to fact-check the fact-checkers?
Unfortunately, PoliFact, a joint venture between the St. Petersburg Times and CQ magazine, falls down while trying to get to the bottom of Sarah Palin rape kit story. PoliFact fails because it fundamentally misstates the central issue of the controversy.
The rape kit story is a somewhat complicated one and by all means visit PoliFact for the background information provided. The simple explanation is that in 2000 the Alaska legislature passed a law forbidding towns from charging rape victims (or their insurance companies) for the cost of the traumatic, forensic examines needed to collect evidence for sexual assault crimes. One of the towns charging was Wasilla when Sarah Palin was mayor.
The story, for obvious reasons, has received some mainstream media attention and even more online.
Here's how PoliFact frames the question and where PoliFact gets in immediate trouble:
SUMMARY: Bloggers contend Palin supported a city policy that charged sexual assault victims for forensic exams. We find the truth is murky.
Wrong. Bloggers have not, for the most part, dwelt on whether Palin "supported" the city policy. They have dwelt on the fact that while mayor of Wasilla the policy existed. The notion freaked them out.
It's a subtle but telling difference. Becuase instead of focusing on the very simple question of whether it was accurate to say that Wasilla, under Palin, had a policy of charging rape victims for the sexual assault exams, PoliFact gets bogged down on whether Palin "supported" it.
But wouldn't the simple fact that Palin, as mayor of a very small town and who had authority over the budget process, okayed a budget where the rape kit policy was implemented prove Palin "supported" it? Or was she in the habit of signing off on city budgetary initiatives she disapproved of?
It seems like common sense to us. But because PoliFact can't find any quotes of Palin supporting the rape kit policy, PoliFact claims "the bloggers' charge" is "Half True."
The half that's not true? The half that the bloggers don't really care about; whether Palin technically "supported" the controversial policy.
All three cable news channels, along with various other media, are reporting that John McCain is "suspending" his presidential campaign. But the news reports I have seen haven't established that this has actually happened. Has all campaign work -- GOTV planning, speechwriting, etc -- stopped? Are McCain campaign staffers streaming out of campaign offices all across the country, going home indefinitely? If so, it should be easy enough for news organizations to confirm that the campaign is really "suspending." Otherwise, media should probably stop reporting McCain's spin as fact.
Remember the Times' Sunday magazine valentine to Limbaugh in July that lovingly described the right-wing talker as, among other things, "a singular political force"? But that was only after the Times completely buried all the offensive and hateful things Rush has said over the years. (And only after the Times hired a Dittohead to write the profile.)
And that's been the media's M.O. for years when dealing with Limbaugh; whitewash the hate and present him as either being thoughtful or just an entertainer.
But as the Daily Howler got us wondering today, does the Times still feels comfortable with its description of Limbaugh as a "singular political force" (i.e. as a serious thinker) in the wake of his blatantly race-based smear on Barack Obama this week?
As the Howler asks, "Will the mainstream press corps ever speak about the foul mess [Limbaugh] maintains in their midst? Or will they decide, for the ten millionth time, that it's safer to keep their traps shut?"
Boy, this anti-Biden media narrative has really picked up steam. It has nothing to do with the substance of Biden the candidate, but rather the style. And doesn't that just perfectly captures the determined un-seriousness of campaign journalism?
Over at TNR, one of its its blogs mocked Biden's recent claim that a helicopter he was riding in during an Afghanistan visit was forced down. It "could teeter into Hillary-in-Bosnia territory," TNR announced. See, the assumption was that gaffe-prone Biden made up the silly story.
Except that he didn't. The helicopter story is accurate.
It just was not sustainable, writes Jack Shafer at Slate, who recalls the sunnier days in that relationship:
This, of course, is the same press corps that adored John McCain during the 2000 race, as this comprehensive study by FAIR shows. The press corps liked his honesty. They liked the access he provided them. They liked his maverick stance. They liked the way he made them feel. And they didn't mind cutting him slack whenever he acted like a regular politician-which he was, most of the time.
FNC producer, lamenting that the press restrictions surrounding Sarah Palin are "unprecedented." See HuffPost.
John Cole at Balloon Juice notes that the McCain's pushback against the NYT, and specifically the pushback coming from McCain's blogger Michael Goldfarb, would be taken more seriously if it were based in fact.
There's a new Rasmussen poll that finds that more Americans think Jim Lehrer, Friday's debate moderator, will "try to help Barack Obama" than think he will try to help John McCain. (The vast majority either think Lehrer will try to play a neutral role or are unsure.) Since poll results that find the public suspects liberal bias on the part of the media tend to get more media attention than results that find the public suspects bias in favor of conservatives*, you can expect to hear a fair amount about the Rasmussen poll over the next few days.
So it's worth keeping in mind Jim Lehrer's performance in previous presidential debates. A few weeks ago, I described his bungling (and, intentionally or not, strongly pro-Bush) behavior during a key portion of the last debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000.
The short version is that Lehrer helped Bush falsely blur the differences between Bush and Gore on the Patients Bill of Rights by falsely suggesting the two candidates agreed on the issue. Then, when Gore asked Bush a straightforward question about whether Bush actually supported the same piece of legislation he supported, Lehrer told Bush: "Governor Bush, you may answer that if you'd like." So, in his role as moderator, Lehrer gave viewers the false impression that the candidates agreed (exactly the impression Bush wanted viewers to have) then, rather than pressing Bush to clarify his position, he made it optional. Naturally, Bush declined.
A longer version is available here.
There's another reason to think Lehrer's handling of the debate may (intentionally or not) end up helping McCain. In 1996, Slate's Jack Shafer described Lehrer's style:
Yet, even though he knows that most politicians, CEOs, and activists who appear on his show are accomplished liars, he offers little in the way of interruption or contradiction.
Lehrer himself has said he doesn't think it is his role to say someone is lying, even when he knows that is the case. If the general media consensus that John McCain has run the more dishonest campaign is correct, Lehrer's style is likely to benefit McCain.
* In May, a CBS/New York Times poll found that only 8 percent of Americans thought the media had been harder on McCain than on other candidates, while 28 percent thought the media had been easier on McCain than on other candidates. You probably didn't hear about that poll result; the media ignored it.