Conservative media helped RNC spread anonymous Edwards-Rabin story

››› ››› KATIE BARGE & JEREMY CLUCHEY

As part of its attempt to portray Senator John Edwards (D-NC), Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) vice-presidential running mate, as "unaccomplished and inexperienced," the Republican National Committee circulated a research brief that repeated an anecdote Washington Monthly founding editor Charles Peters recounted in his June 2003 "Tilting at Windmills" column. In the column, Peters cited an unnamed, secondhand, but purportedly "reliable source" as saying Edwards did not know who former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was.

The brief, which the RNC released on the day Kerry announced the Kerry-Edwards ticket, cited the anecdote directly under the headline "New To Foreign Policy & International Issues." Peters wrote in his June 2003 column (which also discussed "Lieberman's Sex Appeal" and "Deep Doo-Doo in Baghdad"):

[A] story recently told to me by a reliable source is less than reassuring. One evening while he [Edwards] was campaigning for the Senate in North Carolina [in 1998], Edwards was faced with a choice of several events he might attend. An advance man suggested, "Maybe we ought to go to the reception for Leah Rabin." Edwards responded, "Who's she?" "Yitzhak Rabin's widow," replied the aide. "Who was he?" asked Edwards.

In spite of the Edwards presidential campaign's assertion "that Peters' anonymously sourced story 'has no bearing in fact' and that Edwards has never been to an event that included Leah Rabin," as Slate.com's William Saletan and Chris Suellentrop reported on September 26, 2003, the anecdote -- now nearly six years old -- has nonetheless quickly become a favorite of media conservatives.

On the July 6 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, radio host Rush Limbaugh repeated the anonymously sourced story, citing Slate.com but failing to mention that Slate.com also reported the Edwards campaign's rejection of the story in the same article:

LIMBAUGH: This is in the Washington Monthly, June of 2003. So just a year ago. And this is found at -- at Slate MSN.com. ... He's campaigning for the Senate, '98, and he didn't know who Yitzhak Rabin is -- or was. Now that's something...

Also July 7, right-wing news website NewsMax.com recounted the anecdote in an "Inside Cover Story" titled "Edwards Stumped by Yitzhak Rabin's Name." The NewsMax.com article, which claimed that "Edwards has so little foreign policy experience that he reportedly couldn't identify the name Yitzhak Rabin as belonging to the late Israeli prime minister," credited Limbaugh with "unearth[ing]" the report.

FOX News Channel host and ABC radio host Sean Hannity repeated the RNC talking point on the July 6 broadcast of The Sean Hannity Show and reiterated the rumor that evening on FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: John Edwards's comments on Iraq in particular are amazing! His ignorance of foreign affairs is stunning. I mean if -- if this were a Republican, it would be -- this guy didn't know who Rabin was. He didn't know. I mean, it's amazing stuff. [The Sean Hannity Show, 7/6/04]

HANNITY: I don't think Edwards has the experience. You know, it's -- it frightens me and I think it ought to be a campaign issue. If he didn't know who Yitzhak Rabin is, that, in 1998 -- that's a frightening thought to me. [Hannity & Colmes, 7/6/04]

On July 7, in an editorial, the New York Sun also recounted Peters's anecdote (incorrectly attributing it to a 1998 Washington Monthly report rather than to Peters's June 2003 column):

During the primary campaign, Mr. Edwards was vague on foreign policy and national security issues. In 1998, the Washington Monthly reported that Mr. Edwards, then a Senate candidate, didn't even know who Yitzhak Rabin was. "Who was he?" the magazine quoted him as saying. At a time when terrorists are targeting America and its leaders, will Americans really want to risk having John Edwards just a heartbeat away from the presidency?

In the July 7 edition of The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com, editor James Taranto, in his "Best of the Web" column, republished the anecdote from Peters's Washington Monthly column, and added, "In fairness, we should note that there's no evidence that the Rabins knew who Edwards was either."

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