In the weeks leading up to Election Day, major media outlets whitewashed many of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's extreme positions, including on abortion, health care, and the situation in the Middle East. In doing so, these outlets aided Romney's efforts to remake himself as a moderate politician.
Perusing the political media these days you can't help but notice the hand-wringing consensus that the Obama administration is running a risk by "politicizing" the death of Osama bin Laden. Foreign policy achievements, we're told, are somehow sacrosanct and shouldn't be sullied by the taint of electioneering.
The president, according to McClatchy, is in "a roiling dispute between his re-election campaign and Republicans, who accuse Obama of politicizing a unifying event by taking credit for ordering the raid that got bin Laden." The ever-eager Fox News reports that "President Obama faced mounting criticism Tuesday for allegedly politicizing the anniversary of Usama bin Laden's death, with Sen. John McCain scolding the commander-in-chief and former New York Gov. George Pataki going so far as to call on Obama to apologize."
It would be nice if the press, when wrestling with this narrative, could dive deep into their memories and travel all the way back to June 2006, when the government of Iraq announced that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, had been killed in an airstrike. The Bush White House and the Republican Congressional majority, facing terrible poll numbers and an angry electorate, were ecstatic at the news that one of the world's most wanted terrorists had met his end at American hands and immediately set to work politicizing his death.
The New York Times reported on June 13, 2006:
It came as Republicans began a new effort to use last week's events to turn the war to their political advantage after months of anxiety, and to sharpen attacks against Democrats. On Monday night, the president's top political strategist, Karl Rove, told supporters in New Hampshire that if the Democrats had their way, Iraq would fall to terrorists and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would not have been killed.
"When it gets tough, and when it gets difficult, they fall back on that party's old pattern of cutting and running," Mr. Rove said at a state Republican Party gathering in Manchester.
Rove (who is now busily and dishonestly trying to diminish the Bin Laden raid) was delivering a message that synced nicely with the House Republican strategy (elucidated in a confidential memo prepared by John Boehner) to use Zarqawi's death to draw "a portrait of contrasts between Republicans and Democrats with regard to one of the most important political issues of our era."
Per the memo:
As a result of our efforts during this debate, Americans will recognize that on the issue of national security, they have a clear choice between a Republican Party aware of the stakes and dedicated to victory, versus a Democrat Party without a coherent national security policy that sheepishly dismisses the challenges America faces in a post- 9/11 world.
Of course, even if there were no high-profile example of Republicans "spiking the football" over the death of a terrorist, are we really to believe they wouldn't have done exactly that had he been killed under Bush's watch?
So please: before we lend credence to all the pearl-clutching bluster over "politicizing" the death of a terrorist, let's pay due respect to recent history and common sense.
Has any politician's imminent political rebound been (wrongly) foretold more often than George W. Bush's? Recall that throughout 2005, with Bush's approval ratings in free-fall, the media kept insisting he was just about to turn things around. He never did. David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, even predicted that Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina would enhance his standing with the public. Oops. A year and a half later, Broder was at it again, writing that Bush was "poised for a political comeback." Didn't happen. And who could forget Chuck Todd's declaration that if Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, Bush's approval rating would hit 50 percent by the following July? Democrats did win Congress -- but Bush's approval rating barely cracked 30 percent the following July.
Now Yahoo! News and McClatchy have decided the time is once again ripe for George W. Bush to convince Americans he wasn't a complete disaster of a president after all. But in order to do so, they have to fudge a few things. Like this:
Oh, really? There's an "apparent shift in public opinion" of Bush? Let's just click through to the article and see what the evidence is:
Several media reports have suggested President Obama is hypocritical for making recess appointments because he criticized President Bush in 2005 for bypassing the Senate when he appointed John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But Obama was not generally criticizing recess appointments; rather, he -- along with at least two Republicans -- specifically argued that a recess appointment for such a high-profile diplomatic position could affect the United States' credibility and leverage in the U.N.
A McClatchy article about the scheduled increase in the federal minimum wage provided only arguments from "some economists" against raising the minimum wage while ignoring economists who argue that the economy will benefit from increasing it.
A McClatchy article misrepresented poll findings from Quinnipiac University to falsely claim that a "strong majority of the American people oppose" Judge Sonia Sotomayor's position in Ricci v. DeStefano. In fact, the poll question to which McClatchy referred did not ask about Sotomayor's position in the case.
A McClatchy article mischaracterized Leon Panetta's response to Nancy Pelosi's allegation that during a secret briefing in 2002, the CIA had misled her about its use of waterboarding.
A McClatchy article asserted that "a range of economists" believe that the economic recovery bill "is short on incentives to get consumers spending again and long on social goals that won't stimulate economic activity." But the only person identified as being associated with Democrats or progressives in the article did not criticize the bill; rather, as the McClatchy reporter noted, he called it "a necessary condition for economic stabilization and recovery."
Numerous media outlets have uncritically quoted President Bush asserting, regarding the controversial measures adopted by his administration in the name of national security: "There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results." But these outlets have failed to note that questions have, in fact, been raised about the importance of Bush administration policies and actions to the obstruction of terror threats.
An October 28 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that Sen. John McCain "hammered" Sen. Barack Obama "as someone who'd ... rais[e] taxes on small businesses, much like the plumbing business in Ohio that 'Joe the Plumber' Wurzelbacher said he wanted to buy someday." In fact, McClatchy itself noted in an October 18 article that Wurzelbacher would not likely see a tax increase under Obama's plan if he bought the plumbing business.
McClatchy Newspapers reported that Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin are claiming that Sen. Barack Obama "would raise taxes on ordinary folks such as Joe the Plumber." The article did not note that Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income taxpayers and that "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher himself has said that he would not see a tax increase under Obama's plan.
On MSNBC Live, McClatchy's Steven Thomma asserted that Sen. John McCain will likely attack Sen. Barack Obama "as a tax-raiser, someone who'll take money out of your pocket at the very moment you don't want it to happen." Neither Thomma nor Politico's David Mark, who agreed with Thomma's assessment, noted that claims that Obama will raise taxes and "take money out of your pocket" misrepresent Obama's tax plan.
The New York Times and the AP uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's false claim that Sen. Barack Obama said that William Ayers was "just" a guy in his neighborhood. In fact, when questioned about Ayers in an April Democratic primary debate, Obama did not use the word "just" when describing Ayers as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood."
A McClatchy article stated that Sen. John McCain "appeared before the press in Iowa ... and said: 'Our leaders are expected to leave partisanship at the door and come to the table to solve our problems. Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship in the process.' " But the article did not note that in the next sentence of the same speech, McCain contradicted himself on whether it was appropriate to affix blame, saying: "Now is not the time to fix the blame. It's time to fix the problem."
In recent reports, McClatchy News Service and the Las Vegas Sun falsely suggested that Gov. Sarah Palin supports benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. In fact, while Palin did veto a bill that would have prevented state officials from granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples, she stated that she did so because the Alaska attorney general had advised her that the bill was unconstitutional, not because she supported spousal benefits for same-sex couples.