Please … Just Once?

We don’t assume that reporters flock to this site after a long day on the campaign beat. But if Pete Yost had read Campaign Desk yesterday, we might have been spared the regrettable task of slapping him smartly across the chops for a second day in a row. As we noted, Yost yesterday failed to perform the most elementary of fact checks in his story. Today, he again skates over the surface in an Associated Press report headlined “Bush Chides Kerry in Pa. After VP Debate.”

“President Bush, in biting criticism of his Democratic challenger, said Wednesday that Sen. John Kerry has ‘a strategy of retreat’ for Iraq and ‘an economic program that would imperil America at home,’” writes Yost.

“Retreat” and “imperil” are pretty strong words. We plowed on, hopeful that Yost would examine and grade the charges leveled. No such luck. No elaboration at all on the foreboding “strategy of retreat” was forthcoming. As for the economy, Yost quotes a misleading Bush talking point and lets it stand: “‘The senator is proposing higher taxes on more than 900,000 small business owners,’ said Bush. ‘My opponent is one of the few candidates in history to campaign on a pledge to raise taxes. And that’s the kind of promise a politician from Massachusetts usually keeps.’”

This was Yost’s big moment — the “900,000 small business owners” charge has been soundly refuted. Unfortunately, he did not correct the record. Instead, his report hops to-and-fro among various campaign-related tidbits, going into quote-the-sources mode. The selection: Phil Singer spin, Scott McClellan spin, a brief Paul Bremer cameo, and a few sound bites from Kerry and Bush.

Yost wraps up by injecting some last-minute vim into his report with the ominous declaration that “[p]olitical analysts see alarm bells ringing inside the Bush re-election effort.” But then he cites only one such analyst.

Fear not, Pete. Tomorrow’s another day. Not too late to pull up your socks and hit the ball. For once.

Susanna Dilliplane

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Susanna Dilliplane is a contributor to CJR.