Wash. Post reported as fact that McCain "suspend[ed] most campaign activities," uncritically reported McCain adviser's claim that Obama "will raise taxes"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Washington Post reported as fact that Sen. John McCain "suspend[ed] most campaign activities last week" without noting evidence to the contrary, including reports in the Post that McCain's campaigning continued "despite" his "pledge." Further, the Post uncritically reported Steve Schmidt's assertion that Sen. Barack Obama "will raise taxes." In fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families.

In a September 28 Washington Post article, staff writers Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray reported as fact that Sen. John McCain "suspend[ed] most campaign activities last week" to "return to Washington to get involved in the financial package negotiations," without noting evidence that McCain did not suspend "most campaign activities," including reports in the Post that McCain's campaigning continued "despite the GOP nominee's pledge." As Media Matters for America has documented, numerous campaign activities continued following McCain's September 24 announcement that he was going to suspend his campaign. Further, Balz and Murray uncritically reported McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt's assertion that "McCain will argue that, in a time of economic crisis, [Sen. Barack] Obama will raise taxes and spending and 'will make our economy worse.' " In fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families and raising taxes only on households earning more than $250,000 per year. Indeed, both McCain and his chief economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, have acknowledged that Obama has proposed tax cuts.

While Balz and Murray wrote that the McCain campaign "suspend[ed] most campaign activities," in a September 26 article, their Post colleagues Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman wrote that "[d]espite the GOP nominee's pledge to suspend electioneering, the presidential campaign continued yesterday." Indeed, following McCain's announcement, McCain campaign ads continued to run; his advisers repeatedly attacked Obama on cable news networks; McCain gave interviews with the three broadcast networks the day following his announcement; and, according to a September 25 article by reporter Sam Stein, The Huffington Post "called up 15 McCain-Palin and McCain Victory Committee headquarters in various battleground states. Not one said that it was temporarily halting operations because of the supposed 'suspension' in the campaign."

While Balz and Murray uncritically reported Schmidt's claim that Obama would "raise taxes," during the September 26 presidential debate, McCain himself noted that Obama would provide tax cuts. McCain asserted:

McCAIN: Now, Senator Obama didn't mention that, along with his tax cuts, he is also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs.

Now, that's a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. I want to cut spending. I want to keep taxes low. The worst thing we could do in this economic climate is to raise people's taxes.

Further, Eakin has reportedly said it is inaccurate to say that "Barack Obama raises taxes." In addition, the Tax Policy Center concluded in its analysis of Obama's and McCain's tax proposals that "Obama would give larger tax cuts to low- and moderate-income households and pay some of the cost by raising taxes on high-income taxpayers. In contrast, McCain would cut taxes across the board and give the biggest cuts to the highest-income households."

From the Post article:

McCain advisers are well aware that the past two weeks have brought a shift in the race, but they say that between now and Election Day, there is plenty of time for the fortunes of the two candidates to change again.

"The first lesson of this campaign, going back to 2007, is not to be panicky or reactive to poll numbers," said McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt. "A few weeks back, we had a clear lead, albeit a narrow one, and there were a lot of people on the Democratic side haranguing the Obama campaign in the sense of panic. We always understood not only would that lead dissipate but bounce back the other way and then bounce back again."

For McCain, the danger is that previously undecided voters will become comfortable that Obama is ready to be president. The longer Obama can hold even a small lead, the more difficult it will be for McCain to reverse it, absent something unexpected happening. McCain's best hope, strategists said, is for the crisis atmosphere around Wall Street and the credit markets to lessen, allowing the campaign debate to focus on other questions as much as the economy. The agreement reached early this morning on Capitol Hill about a Wall Street relief package may help with that.

Schmidt said the campaign will press two arguments as forcefully as possible in the coming days. One is that Obama is not ready to be commander in chief and that, in a time of two wars, "his policies will make the world more dangerous and America less secure." Second, he said, McCain will argue that, in a time of economic crisis, Obama will raise taxes and spending and "will make our economy worse."

[...]

The second presidential debate will have a town hall format, which makes combat between the two candidates more difficult. If the race stands essentially as it does today by the time of the third debate on Oct. 15, strategists predict a fierce and confrontational 90 minutes. By then it will become clear whether McCain made the right decision politically to suspend most campaign activities last week and return to Washington to get involved in the financial package negotiations. Aides hope that, if Congress passes a rescue package, McCain's actions will be seen as having contributed to the deal. More important, they hope an agreement will push the economy story off the front pages for a while.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Dan Balz, Shailagh Murray
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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