The vitriol circulating in the blogosphere was no less extreme. “Terrorist Bill Ayers Votes in Obama’s Neighborhood,” proclaimed the endlessly strident Michelle Malkin on her site on Election Day. Nearby, she offered a helpful link on Ayers’s “relationship to Cuban intelligence.” Obama’s message, said the mephitic Monica Crowley, “is a thoroughly negative one: America stinks, the economy stinks, Iraq stinks, our efforts around the world stink, coal stinks, wealth stinks, plumbers stink, conservatives stink, religion stinks . . . .” But “confiscatory taxes, socialism, domestic terrorists, anti-American racist rants, and convicted felons are swell, apparently.” Ayers and Khalidi, insisted the hardcore Hugh Hewitt, were not simply associates of Obama’s but actual advisers. Far-right Web sites like World Net Daily and Newsmax.com floated all kinds of specious stories about Obama that quickly careened around the blogosphere and onto talk radio. One particular favorite was the claim that Bill Ayers ghost-wrote Dreams From My Father.

As for columnists, one could read Michael Barone warning about “The Coming Obama Thugocracy,” Jonah Goldberg jeering about Obama’s “pals from the Weather Underground who murdered or celebrated the murder of policemen,” and Charles Krauthammer lambasting Obama for being a celebrity, a narcissist, a rigid ideologue, a cynical pragmatist, ambitious, mysterious, and underhanded. “By the time he’s finished,” Krauthammer fumed, “Obama will have made the Clintons look scrupulous.” The National Review Online came to resemble a barnyard, in which strutting roosters spent their days hooting and hollering while littering the ground with manure.

In the end, no institution devoted more energy to assailing Barack Obama than Fox News. Any pretense that the network is anything other than an arm of the most rigid reaches of the Republican Party was dispelled by its relentless campaign against the Democrats. On The O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly offered nightly reports on Bill Ayers, including one “exclusive” in which a reporter staked out the Chicago professor’s house for days, then confronted him so aggressively that Ayers had to call the police. Greta Van Susteren, when not gushing over Sarah and Todd Palin, seemed to offer up a series of Republican talking points. “Next: Who Is Rashid Khalidi?” went a typical teaser. Appearing regularly on the network were a series of professional Democrat detractors, including architect-of-the-most-unpopular-presidency-in-American-history Karl Rove, onetime-Bill-Clinton-adviser-disgraced-after-having-been-found-consorting-with-a-prostitute Dick Morris, and the always-welcome-on-Fox-no-matter-how-foul-her-views Ann Coulter. “I feel,” she said on one show, “like we are talking to the Germans after Hitler comes to power, saying, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t know. I had no idea he was going to be like this.’ ”

When it comes to Obama-bashing, however, Sean Hannity was in a class by himself. Consumed with a hatred for Obama that at times seemed pathological, Hannity waged a nightly campaign to depict him as a treacherous enemy of the people, who, if allowed to take office, would subvert every value and tradition Americans hold dear. The centerpiece of this effort was an hour-long special, “Obama & Friends: History of Radicalism,” that drew on a series of marginal and shadowy writers and researchers to offer up a series of allegations and half-truths about Obama’s supposed ties to Tony Rezko, ACORN, Louis Farrakhan, Muslim fundamentalists, black-power advocates, and, of course, Bill Ayers. In one especially lunatic segment, Andy Martin, a writer with a history of making anti-Semitic statements, claimed that Obama, in deciding to work as a community organizer in Chicago after college, had “probably” been recruited for the job by Ayers, who was seeking to test his suitability for joining his radical political movement, the aim of which was to bring about in America a “socialist revolution.” Martin offered not a shred of evidence to back up this charge. Nonetheless, the image of Obama-as-Ayers-front-man became a staple on talk radio and in the blogosphere.

For years now, Fox has tried to promote the idea that, while its prime-time lineup of O’Reilly, Hannity, and Van Susteren might have a conservative bent, its newscasts are fair and balanced. Fox’s campaign coverage revealed the utter emptiness of that claim. Over the final weeks of the campaign, for instance, the network offered near-hourly updates on acorn and what Fox insinuated was its campaign to steal the election for the Democrats.

Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.