Old But Still Ugly

Wouldn’t it be swell if journalists actually assisted readers and viewers in sorting through the claims and counterclaims coming from both campaigns on an hourly basis? You know, something like We Report and Then We Lay Out the Facts That Lie Beneath Both Sides’ Spin.

To take but one, tired example, Campaign Desk has urged the press (more than once) to stop reporting at face value the misleading Bush campaign claim that John Kerry has raised taxes/voted for higher taxes 350 times during his Senate career. (To see precisely what is wrong with the assertion, we direct you here.)

The “350 times” claim popped up again this week — in an advertisement produced by the conservative Club for Growth, and again yesterday, when Vice President Cheney spoke at a fundraiser in Utah. And how has the press responded?

Today, the Boston Globe’s Raja Mishra, in a wrap-up story on John Edwards’ convention speech, dutifully reports Cheney’s claim in passing, unchallenged. “…[T]aking aim at the opposition on both the domestic and international fronts,” Mishra writes, “the vice president said Kerry has voted to raise taxes 350 times in his career…” Bob Bernick, Jr., writing today for the Deseret Morning News in Utah, also types up Cheney’s assertion without question or comment.

Both FoxNews.com and the Agence France Presse allow the “350 times” claim — supplied by one or another Bush/Cheney surrogate — to go by unexamined in their stories about the GOP’s Boston war room. And thus far this week, assorted Bush/Cheney folks have made the claim three times on different cable news shows — and neither Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren, nor CNN’s Judy Woodruff, nor CNN’s Wolf Blitzer batted an eye.

The Associated Press’s Liz Sidoti took a stab at planting a seed of doubt for her readers about the assorted claims made in the Club for Growth’s new advertisement. Sidoti quotes the ad, complete with the “350 times” claim, and then writes: “The [ad’s] script largely echoes assertions the Bush campaign has made in its own anti-Kerry ads, including some that have been criticized by independent fact checkers as questionable.”

To see how it’s done, even by reporters on the fly, we direct readers to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dick Polman who on Monday filed a piece about Republicans descending on Boston to, as the headline reads, “chip away at emerging Kerry image.” Polman reports: “So they’re trying everything. They’re already saying that Kerry has voted in the Senate to raise taxes 350 times (a misleading assertion) …” Polman goes on to explain precisely how the assertion misleads as well as to list several other Republican claims and to comment parenthetically on their veracity.

Liz Cox Barrett

Correction, August 11: The above post has been corrected to more accurately reflect the content of Dick Polman’s article.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.