At the end of last week, in George Allen’s attempt to force voters to consider explicit and bizarrely perverse excerpts from the novels of James Webb, his opponent in the Virginia Senate race, we had the perfect test case for timing the speed of its slither.
First, though, a clarification about the difference we see between this incident and the frenzy over macaca, or the newly discovered Jewishness of the cowboy boot-wearing senator, or the accusations that the slur “nigger” peppered his conversations throughout high school and college. Someone, probably a right-wing blogger, could make a convincing case that these, too, were just as slimy and disparaging to Allen’s person as broadcasting the strange Vietnamese pedophiliac tableau or ingenious fruit-cutting methods described in Webb’s book. (Don’t ask us, just have a look here for the explanation.)
But there would be two things wrong with drawing such an equivalency. First, the material for attacks on Allen came not from the Webb camp but from independent sources, namely journalists talking to people who had something to say. In this latest case, however, it was Allen’s people who were cynically cutting and pasting the excerpts from the books into press releases and sending them out. But a second, and even more critical distinction, is that the charges against Allen are based in reality, they actually happened or, at least, were claimed to have happened. This seems more than just a little different than using against an opponent the product of his own imagination (and Webb, for the record, says his books simply reflect the strange things he saw while in ‘Nam).
Late Thursday evening, Drudge posted the press release onto his Web site, alerting his readers that Allen’s campaign had finally “exposed his rival’s fiction writing,” whatever that means. It turns out, as a Washington Post article reported the next day, Allen’s aides had been trying for weeks to get other news organizations to write about Webb’s fiction. Drudge must have been their last choice, but it wasn’t a bad choice at all.
As soon as an item goes up on his site - regardless of the fact that Drudge himself admits that 20 percent of his reporting is wrong - it becomes controversy. And though covering the salacious details of such a slime tactic might be beneath the Times or the Post, they act as if covering the “controversy” over it rises to the level of a duty.
In her column on Sunday, Maureen Dowd worried that Allen may be able to hurt Webb if “he prints up all the steamy quotes on fliers and puts them on the windshields of Virginia churchgoers on Sunday.” But who needs to print up flyers when newspapers are happy to pick up the story from Drudge and run with it.
By Friday, the Post, which has closely covered this race, began an article about the “controversy” by posing this nearly nonsensical question: “Should the author of a fictional work who runs for office be personally held to account for the scenes in his books?”