In an editorial, The Washington Post asserted that "[t]he worst offenders" of "negative campaigning" were "Republicans, but that probably was because they were the ones on the defensive." In fact, Republicans also employed vicious smears in winning the 2002 and 2004 elections.
In a November 9 editorial, headlined "A Better Way," which discussed how "[n]egative campaigning hit new lows this year," citing four tactics used by Republicans this election cycle, The Washington Post asserted that "[t]he worst offenders ... were Republicans, but that probably was because they were the ones on the defensive." In fact, Republicans also employed vicious smears in winning the 2002 and 2004 elections. For instance, during the 2002 Georgia Senate race, then-Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss linked then-incumbent Sen. Max Cleland, a former Army captain who lost three limbs during the Vietnam War, to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and attacked Cleland's record on national security. During the 2004 presidential race, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (now Swift Vets and POWs for Truth), which backed President Bush, also employed smear tactics to falsely attack Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) record during and after his service in Vietnam, a smear previously noted by the Post's editorial page.
Additionally, the Post editorial cited the "sleazy new practices such as robo-calls designed to annoy and deceive voters" but did not note that they were employed by Republicans, not Democrats, as its own reporting has. The editorial also referred to "the Election Day disgrace of Maryland's top two elected officials sanctioning the use of a clearly false campaign flier and then compounding the insult to the targeted Prince George's County audience by using out-of-state homeless people to distribute the material" but did not note that the campaign was conducted by Republicans. As the Post reported on November 7, "Inaccurate sample ballots describing Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate candidate Michael S. Steele as Democrats were handed out to voters in at least four polling sites in Prince George's County."
Despite the Post editorial's suggestion, Republicans have a history of engaging in controversial attacks on their Democratic opponents and such attacks are not unique to the 2006 midterms. For instance, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, during that 2002 Georgia Senate race, Chambliss aired advertisements against Cleland that featured footage of Saddam and bin Laden and attacked Cleland on his record on national security. As the Post itself reported in a July 3, 2003, article:
It [the ad] opened with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators," said a narrator, "Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead. He says he supports President Bush at every opportunity, but that's not the truth. Since July, Max Cleland voted against President Bush's vital homeland security efforts 11 times!"
The Chambliss ad was immediately condemned, as the Post reported, by Republican Sens. John McCain (AZ) -- who said of the ad, "[I]t's worse than disgraceful, it's reprehensible" -- and Chuck Hagel (NE) -- who threatened to run an ad denouncing Republican officials if they didn't pull it off the air.
Additionally, in 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth became famous for airing false and discredited ads attacking Kerry's Vietnam service record. Among other things, the Swift Boat Veterans accused Kerry of lying to receive the medals he was awarded during his service and of betraying the troops by giving anti-war testimony before Congress in 1971. An August 24, 2004, Post editorial condemned the ads, stating that "ads by the group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had crossed the line in smearing the service that earned Mr. Kerry three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star." The editorial further noted that "additional evidence has emerged, in reporting by The Post's Michael Dobbs and in other papers, that further discredits the group's claims."
The Post's editorial reflects a pattern among the media in denouncing "dirty campaigning" and suggesting both parties are culpable, while providing only Republican transgressions as examples, as Media Matters has previously noted (here and here). For instance, the October 25 broadcast of ABC's Nightline reported that "both sides are playing a serious game of hardball" with "mudslinging" attack ads hitting "below the belt," focusing entirely on a handful of controversial Republican ads that garnered wide media attention and were broadly condemned, both for their inaccuracies and their personal attacks. But the report did not cite one instance in which a Democrat had made similar attacks. Likewise, in an online report on how recent campaigns advertisements are "getting ugly," ABC News, unable to point to a single instance of "nasty" attacks from Democratic candidates or their supporters, suggested it is only a matter of time before "the left" begins to "unleash its garbage as well." ABC News offered no evidence to back up its assertion.