Arlen Specter gets a taste of the GOP Noise Machine

››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

By the far the most eye-opening event that unfolded in the wake of Arlen Specter's move, which seemed to send Republican partisans into an even deeper and angrier funk, was the completely new way in which the senator got treated -- got abused, really -- by the Republican Noise Machine and how the vast array of right-wing media outlets that do the GOP's partisan bidding laid into Specter by manufacturing a classic smear campaign thinly disguised as journalism, a smear campaign that held Specter up for public ridicule and mocked him as a heartless, opportunistic pol.

After abandoning the Republican Party in favor of a new Democratic home, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter experienced a handful of awkward moments that accompanied his aisle-crossing adventure. Specter's three decades' worth of Senate seniority were mostly stripped away by his new Democratic colleagues, and he seemed to momentarily forget that he was no longer supposed to (publicly) root for Norm Coleman in his never-ending appeals process in Minnesota.

But for me, by the far the most eye-opening event that unfolded in the wake of Specter's move, which seemed to send Republican partisans into an even deeper and angrier funk, was the completely new way in which the senator got treated -- got abused, really -- by the Republican Noise Machine and how the vast array of right-wing media outlets that do the GOP's partisan bidding laid into Specter by manufacturing a classic smear campaign thinly disguised as journalism, a smear campaign that held Specter up for public ridicule and mocked him as a heartless, opportunistic pol.

Democrats have watched that drill play out countless times in recent years. But it was revealing to watch Specter become the Noise Machine's target. Even though Specter, as a moderate Republican, was never a favorite of the Noise Machine, the right-wing media movement never would have ripped his words out of context and spread a vicious smear about him if he had stayed put in the GOP. But now that he's outside the shrinking tent, Specter's fair game for whatever contrived and mean-spirited hoax conservative "journalists" can dream up.

And that's what The Washington Times, the Drudge Report, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and an army of online minions did. What they dreamt up was the idea that while appearing on CBS' Face the Nation, Specter blamed Republicans for Jack Kemp's recent death from cancer. That Specter had pointed a bloody and accusatory finger at the GOP and blamed it for "killing" Kemp.

The onslaught seemed to catch Specter and his communications team off guard, but this is what the Noise Machine does the when the bell rings and smear campaigns are launched; facts are discarded and the phony allegations actually get embellished through a gruesome game of telephone. (I heard Specter once threatened to beat up Kemp!)

And boy, the frothing was just out of control. With his (supposedly) tasteless Kemp comment, the Republican turncoat had revealed himself as a "crass," "opportunistic," "perfidious," "disloyal," "traitorous" "dunce" and a "rank opportunist." And that was from just one unhinged post. Elsewhere, juvenile bloggers, busy spreading mindless misinformation, rang Specter up as an "asshat," "human ipecac," and an "official" convert to "Ass-dom." (Were these blog posts written on the playground during recess?) And yes, it seemed rather obvious the schoolyard taunts had much more to do with Specter abandoning the shrinking GOP than they did with his supposed comments about Kemp.

Here's how The Washington Times' Tom LoBianco first hatched the story, beneath the definitive, albeit comically misleading, headline "Specter: GOP priorities contributed to Kemp death" [emphasis added]:

Mr. Specter, responding to a question from CBS's Bob Schieffer over whether he had let down Pennsylvanians who wanted a Republican to represent them, said he felt his priorities were more in line with those of the Democrats.

"Well, I was sorry to disappoint many people. Frankly, I was disappointed that the Republican Party didn't want me as their candidate," Mr. Specter said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "But as a matter of principle, I'm becoming much more comfortable with the Democrats' approach. And one of the items that I'm working on, Bob, is funding for medical research."

Mr. Specter continued: "If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine."

We'll get to the "continued" nonsense in a bit. But from the Times' telling, it was obvious: Asked about why he left the GOP, Specter claimed that if "we" (i.e. Republicans, according to the Times) had followed Nixon's lead, "we" could have cured more cancer and Kemp would be alive today. In the Times' tortured telling, Specter made a direct connection between Kemp's dying from cancer and the Republicans' failed agenda.

Dutifully taking its cues from the journalism-challenged Times, that's how the entire Noise Machine presented the quotes and connected the dots for readers: Specter said GOP killed Kemp! Literally:

  • "Specter: Jack Kemp Would Be Alive Today If GOP Would've Pursued Mine & Nixon's Healthcare Views" [a hit clip posted on You Tube].

Not to be outdone by the Times' duplicity, the New York Post, a Noise Machine anchor, weighed in, announcing in an editorial:

But the prize for over-the-top zealotry has to go to newly minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, who all but accused his erstwhile GOP colleagues of literally killing their own one-time vice presidential candidate.

That's no exaggeration, sad to say.

If the Post's editorial writers weren't already so widely know for their serial mendacity, this bout of falsehoods might actually be newsworthy. But this is what the Post does: propaganda, plain and simple. According to the Post, Specter "all but" accused Republicans of "literally" killing Kemp. No exaggeration.

But Specter never claimed what the Times and the Post and the rest of the Noise Machine goons claimed he had said. And that brings us back to the Times' "continued" and back to the idea that Specter made a direct connection between leaving the GOP and Kemp's death.

The right-wing Times claimed Specter went straight from his comments about leaving the GOP to directly discussing Nixon's war on cancer. Nothing Specter said in between was relevant to the story at hand. (Or the Times would have included it, right?) Except that what Specter said in between changed the entire context of the quote and made it clear that when Specter mentioned "we," he wasn't talking about Republicans, he was talking about Congress, which, of course, obliterates the phony premise the Noise Machine used to spread its Specter hate.

OK, it's a long sound bite, but here's Specter's entire response, which is needed to understand the smear that was launched against him:

Well, I was sorry to disappoint many people. Frankly, I was disappointed that the Republican Party didn't want me as their candidate. But as a matter of principle, I'm becoming much more comfortable with the Democrats' approach.

And one of the items that I'm working on, Bob, is funding for medical research. I've been the spear-carrier to increase medical research. And I've even established a website, SpecterForTheCure.com, to try to get people to put more pressure on Congress to join me in getting more funding.

This medical research has been a reawakening -- the 10 billion dollars. We were about to lose a whole generation of scientists, and now they're enthused. There are 15,000 applications to be granted. If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine.

Now, as The New York Times pointed out in the column today, when you talk about life and death and medical research, that's a much more major consideration on what I can do continuing in the Senate contrasted with which party I belong to.

As you can see from the bolded portions, when Specter mentioned "we," he was talking about Congress, not the Republican Party. That point was made clear when he then referenced congressional funding for cancer research going back to 1970. (Hint: Republicans didn't control congressional funding in the 1970s.)

But that didn't stop the Noise Machine for soldiering on. How? By making up more facts. Blogger Ed Morrissey wrote that for Specter to claim "he could have saved Kemp if only the GOP had spent a little more like drunken sailors between 2001-6 is just despicable" [emphasis in original]. Please note that Morrissey simply concocted the idea that Specter ever referenced cancer research "between 2001-6." Specter never said that. But Morrissey needed to make that up in order to prop up the phony claim that Specter called out Republicans, who controlled Congress from 2001-6, for not spending enough on cancer research. Specter did no such thing. Period.

What Specter did do, though, was specifically mention "Congress" and its failure to support cancer research. Specter also mentioned Nixon's 1970 call for a war on cancer. The fact is that between 1970 and Kemp's recent death, Democrats controlled Congress for many more years than did Republicans. And so it's rather obvious Specter was talking about both Democrats and Republicans and their failure, in his eyes, to spend enough on cancer research since 1970.

Oddly enough, a news report posted on FoxNews.com got it right:

Jack Kemp would still be alive if the federal government had done a better job funding cancer research, Sen. Arlen Specter said Sunday, one day after Kemp, the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee and former congressman, died of cancer.

Also, note Specter's reference on CBS to his website SpecterForTheCure.com and how the senator wanted to use it to "try to get people to put more pressure on Congress to join me in getting more funding." Who controls Congress today? And who does Specter want people to pressure for more cancer research? The answer to both questions is, of course, Democrats.

But the Noise Machine simply set aside large chunks of Specter's comments and stitched together the phony claim that he had drawn a direct, partisan line from the Republican Party to Kemp's death. The senator did not. (Does that actually surprise anybody?)

I have to say that when the smear campaign was rolled out, Specter's communications team seemed to be caught flat-footed and made no attempt to push back on the phony allegations. Perhaps that was to be expected because until recently, Specter's team didn't really need an internal defense mechanism to deal with the fevered lies launched by the GOP Noise Machine.

But now that he's become a Democrat, Specter ought to invest in one.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Research Funding
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.