As I have mentioned, Obama is finally striking back against the McCain team’s low blows. I understand why the Democrats would finally want to start firing back at the Republican Lee Atwater, Karl Rove tactics of culture wars and personal destruction. Nevertheless, I am not fully comfortable with Obama taking this path, even if bringing up the Keating Five isn’t too much of a stretch. And now it looks like McCain’s connections to Iran Contra are also being dug up out of the past.
A few days ago, I blamed the press for giving credence to Palin’s statements about Obama “palling around with terrorists” by literally making it a headline. In an excellent piece on the subject in today’s Washington Post, Eugene Robinson echoed my concerns and wrote,
We also know that no matter how skeptical we are when we write about bogus allegations, writing about them at all gives them wider circulation. So when Palin questions Obama’s love of country because Obama knows somebody who did something unpatriotic when Obama was 8, our free-market ethos makes us rush to cover her every ridiculous word. We also find ways to convey that this is pure mudslinging and nothing but a cynical campaign tactic, but that doesn’t matter to the McCain campaign. What matters is that we’re writing and talking about this extraneous stuff — and not about the issues that polls say voters really care about.
If we in the media really believe what we say about serving the public interest, we have a duty to avoid being turned into instruments of mass distraction. Of course we should cover what the candidates say, putting their words in context and pointing out when the candidates are exaggerating or lying. But we should also think hard about how much prominence we give to smears and counter-smears.
It’s interesting because if you are like me (and by that I mean obsessively reading all of the major newspapers on a daily basis to get election coverage), you know that the serious press and journalists have pretty unanimously condemned John McCain’s change in strategy, most of his cheap shots, and have all — from the right, left and center — found Sarah Palin to be uniquely unqualified. Nevertheless when I read the papers this morning, there is still more coverage given to Obama links to Bill Ayers than to McCain and the Keating Five. Even if much of the stories criticize McCain’s misuse of the facts or dispel the Ayers connection, the press is still give airtime to the ridiculous claims. Continue reading