A front-page, above-the-fold story in the May 31 edition of the Washington Post carried the headline: “From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity–Scholars Say Campaign Is Making History With Often-Misleading Attacks.”
The article claimed to expose “untruths” that the Bush campaign was spreading about Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. But on close reading it showed no such thing. Instead Post reporters Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei spent 2,199 words uncritically repeating the anti-Bush complaints of left-wing “scholars” and Kerry campaign hacks.
Indeed, nearly every statement about Kerry’s record that Milbank and VandeHei claim is an “untruth” is in fact a “truth”–or, at minimum, an arguably true proposition.
Here’s an analysis of what passed for front-page campaign reporting at the professedly non-partisan Washington Post.
Bush’s Claim: Kerry would “raise taxes by $900 billion.” (Bush ad aired March 11)
Post‘s Defense of Kerry: “Kerry has said no such thing; the number was developed by the Bush campaign’s calculation of Kerry’s proposals.”
The Truth: The ad doesn’t say Kerry “said” it. It said Kerry would do it. Although the number $900 billion is based on GOP estimates, that doesn’t make it wrong. Kerry has proposed repealing some of the Bush tax cuts, and enacting billions of dollars in new programs while also closing the deficit. What is the price tag for all this? Milbank and VandeHei say that the GOP’s estimate is misleading, but don’t offer their own, or anyone else’s estimate, of how much Kerry would have to raise taxes. So, how can they know what is the accurate estimate?
Bush’s Claim: Kerry “supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax….If Kerry’s tax increase were law, the average family would pay $647 more a year.” (Bush ad aired March 30)
Post‘s Defense of Kerry: “The ad is based on a ten-year-old newspaper quotation of Kerry but implies that the proposal is current.”
The Truth: The ad is true. In 1994, Kerry supported a 50-cent gas tax hike that would have imposed a significant burden on American families. He has also voted nine times to hike gas taxes by 4.3 cents. The Post seems to be suggesting there ought to be statute of limitations on citing idiotic policies advocated by a Democratic presidential candidate. But it didn’t impose a similar statute on discussing Bush’s National Guard service.
Bush’s Claim: Kerry “has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all. He said, quote, ‘I don’t want to use that terminology.'” (Vice President Dick Cheney, May 25)
Post‘s Defense of Kerry: “The quote Cheney used came from a March interview with the New York Times, in which Kerry . . .was discussing the ‘economic transformation’ of the Middle East–not the war on terrorism.”
The Truth: The Post paraphrases the Times misleadingly. Kerry’s exact words (March 5) were: “The final victory in the war on terror depends on a victory in the war of ideas, much more than the war on the battlefield. And the war–not the war, I don’t want to use that terminology–the engagement of economies, the economic transformation, the transformation to modernity of a whole bunch of countries that have been avoiding the future.” In other words, Kerry eschews the term “war” because he views the so-called “war on terror” as an attempt to solve economic problems in the Middle East. This jives with Kerry’s statement on Meet the Press in April that the War on Terror is primarily a law enforcement activity, not a military one.
Bush’s Claim: Kerry “has voted some 350 times for higher taxes.” (Vice President Dick Cheney, May 25)
Post‘s Defense of Kerry: “[This number] includes any vote in which Kerry voted to leave taxes unchanged or supported a smaller tax cut than some favored.”
The Truth: Votes to prevent or shrink tax cuts as well as to raise taxes are all votes for “higher taxes,” just as Cheney described. Cheney is correct about the number of times Kerry has cast such votes.
Bush’s Claim: “Kerry would now repeal the Patriot Act’s use of [wiretaps, subpoena powers and surveillance] against terrorists.” (Bush ad aired May 26)
Post‘s Defense of Kerry: “Kerry has proposed modifying those provisions by mandating tougher judicial controls over wiretaps and subpoenas, but not repealing them.”
The Truth: As with almost every issue, Kerry wants to have this one both ways, and the Post is helping him do it. Kerry told NBC on May 26, “I’m for the Patriot Act, but I’m not for the Patriot Act the way they abuse the Constitution.” In fact, Kerry wants to replace–or “modify” as the Post spins it–provisions of the law that have been used successfully against terrorists. As Kerry’s spokesman said recently, Kerry only supports about “95%” of the law, meaning he wants to get rid of 5%.
Bush’s Claim: “On Wednesday, Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot said Kerry had suggested all U.S. troops in Iraq are ‘somehow universally responsible’ for the Abu Ghraib prisoner mistreatment.” (Washington Post, May 16)
Post‘s Defense of Kerry: ” . . . a statement the candidate never made.”
The Truth: On May 12, after giving the disclaimer that “99.9% of our troops” don’t abuse prisoners, Kerry immediately said the opposite, suggesting not only that all 138,000 troops are responsible, but all 290 million Americans: “What’s happened is not just something that a few privates or corporals or sergeants engaged in. This is something that comes out of an attitude about the rights of prisoners of war, it’s an attitude that comes out of how we went there in the first place, it’s an attitude that comes out of America’s overall arrogance in its policy that is alienating countries all around the world.”