The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz today brings us this tidbit: Stunned by the efforts of fact-check teams and “truth squads” in the press who are belatedly holding the claims and counterclaims of the candidates up to scrutiny, the Bush campaign has struck back.

In an extraordinary response to these recent stories, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt spoke thusly:

“The Bush campaign should be able to make an argument without having it reflexively dismissed as distorted or inaccurate by the biggest newspapers in the country.”

Got that?

The Bush campaign evidently grew so accustomed to a campaign press that seldom fact-checked much of anything between March and September that it is downright indignant anyone would have the temerity to muse, “Gee, I wonder if that’s right?” and then have the industry to actually ascertain the veracity of the claims and assertions contained in stump speeches and debate transcripts.

We wouldn’t believe it if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, but there it is in black-and-white.

Frankly, as a relatively lonely voice which has since January been urging the campaign press (largely to no avail) to get off its butt and measure charges against known fact, Campaign Desk thinks this is a case of the boys and girls on the bus reaping what they have sown. If you consistently let someone play fast and loose with the facts, you shouldn’t be surprised if that someone yelps in protest when you finally ask that most elementary question of all — “Is he telling the truth? — and then answer it.

As Kurtz himself concludes, “Whatever their [political] orientation, journalists are the last line of defense against public deception. If they fail to challenge distortions by politicians, they might as well join the stenography pool.”

Gee, where have we heard that before?

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.