Several days after ABC's Nightline ran a report on the ad wars of the 2006 elections, claiming, without providing any examples of Democratic-sponsored attack ads, that "both sides are playing a serious game of hardball" with "mudslinging" attack ads hitting "below the belt," NBC News followed its lead, airing a report on "dirty tricks" in political campaigns without any examples of "dirty tricks" by Democrats.
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Introducing a segment on "dirty tricks" in political campaigns during the October 28 edition of NBC's Nightly News, anchor John Seigenthaler Jr. stated that "as the election draws near, this turns into the season when dirty tricks can come into play," adding that "[n]either Republicans nor Democrats can claim the high ground when it comes to these hardball tactics." But the subsequent report by NBC News senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers provided no evidence of Democratic "dirty tricks." Instead, Myers's report focused only on "Republican operative" Allen Raymond, who was involved in a criminal operation to jam state Democratic Party phone lines in New Hampshire on Election Day in 2002. During her report, Myers asked Raymond, who "pleaded guilty to conspiring to make harassing phone calls": "How common are dirty tricks in both Republican and Democratic politics?" Raymond replied that "they're fairly common." However, Myers failed to provide any such examples of "dirty tricks" by Democrats.
As Media Matters for America recently noted, ABC News similarly ran a report on how recent campaign advertisements are "getting ugly" but did not point to a single instance of "nasty" attacks from Democratic candidates or their supporters; instead, it suggested that it is only a matter of time before "the left" begins to "unleash its garbage as well." Also, as Media Matters noted, in a report on the ad wars of the 2006 midterm elections, Terry Moran, co-anchor of ABC's Nightline, reported that "both sides are playing a serious game of hardball" with "mudslinging" attack ads hitting "below the belt." Moran wondered, "How low can they go?" Despite Moran's insistence that the "low punches" were being thrown by both Democrats and Republicans, the entire Nightline report focused on a handful of controversial Republican ads -- including ones airing in Tennessee, Massachusetts, and New York -- that have garnered wide media attention and been broadly condemned, both for their inaccuracies and their ugly personal attacks. Moran's report provided no examples of Democratic-sponsored attack ads that match the level of distortion and personal attack found in the Republican commercials.
From the October 28 edition of NBC's Nightly News:
SEIGENTHALER: NBC News "In Depth" tonight: As the election draws near, this turns into the season when dirty tricks can come into play. Neither Republicans nor Democrats can claim the high ground when it comes to these hardball tactics. What's rare is hearing from someone who got caught. Tonight, in an exclusive interview, a political insider speaks candidly about the dirty tricks that sent him to prison and the lingering question about who else might have been involved. More from NBC senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers.
MYERS: For years, Allen Raymond was a prominent Republican operative with a reputation for bare-knuckled tactics.
RAYMOND: Political campaigns are very aggressive. The aggressor wins. When you are aggressive, you are pushing the envelope.
MYERS: In an exclusive interview, Raymond admits that, four years ago, he went beyond pushing the envelope and actually crossed the line. He spent three months in prison. Now, in a civil suit, Democrats are trying to tie his misdeeds to the White House.
It all happened during a hard-fought battle for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire between then-Democratic Governor Jean Shaheen and Republican John Sununu. Raymond was running a telemarketing firm. He says an old friend from the Republican National Committee, James Tobin, came to him with an idea: use nonstop hang-up calls to tie up Democratic phone lines on Election Day.
So, you were trying to create chaos and keep Democrats from getting out their vote?
RAYMOND: That's right. We were trying to create chaos and prevent the Democratic Party from operating efficiently.
MYERS: On Election Day, the plan worked until nervous state Republicans pulled the plug. And the Republican candidate won, though there's no evidence that phone jamming made the difference.
How common are dirty tricks in both Republican and Democratic politics?
RAYMOND: I think they're fairly common, but let's be clear on something. New Hampshire phone jamming was not a dirty trick; it was criminal.
MYERS: Raymond cooperated with authorities and pleaded guilty to conspiring to make harassing phone calls. The Republican National Committee spent an estimated $3 million to defend its high-ranking operative, Tobin, who claimed not to be involved but was convicted. Others charged in the scheme, including Raymond, did not get the RNC's support.
A lot of folks think that because the Republican National Committee paid $3 million to defend this guy --
MYERS: -- that they have something to hide.
RAYMOND: Well, that's a very fair assumption to make, and they need to answer for that.
MYERS: The RNC declined to comment. Both the RNC and the White House deny authorizing the operation. Raymond is now shunned by his party and, as a felon, unable to vote.
RAYMOND: In the end, it accomplished four years of scandal, lots of legal bills, people going to jail. Was it was worth it? Absolutely not.
MYERS: A cautionary tale, he says, for Republicans and Democrats. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.