This was the week in which we saw the press repeatedly and carelessly reprinting misleading or false claims, such as President Bush’s charge that John Kerry’s income tax proposals would fall on the middle-class, or the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” claim that Kerry’s injuries in Vietnam were not severe enough to warrant a Purple Heart.

Thus, it’s fitting that we close out the week with a look at the real issue of the day. Which team, Bush-Cheney or Kerry-Edwards, is (dare we say it?) more sensitive.

It all began last week when, while giving a speech to minority journalists at the Unity 2004 conference in Washington D.C., Sen. Kerry veered off script and delivered these partially ad-libbed remarks:

I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history.

Well.

Republicans were as giddy over Kerry’s use of the word “sensitive” as a fifth grader giggling at the mention of certain body parts during Sex Ed class. And yesterday those snickers found their way into Dick Cheny’s stump speech. The Vice President told an audience in Dayton, Ohio:

Senator Kerry has also said that if he were in charge he would fight a “more sensitive” war on terror. America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive. President Lincoln and General Grant did not wage sensitive warfare — nor did President Roosevelt, nor Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur. A “sensitive war” will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans and who seek the chemical, nuclear and biological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands more.

The press loves this sort of stuff, and accordingly, Sensitive Gate received top billing in much of the political coverage this morning. Also not surprisingly, in the usual fashion of “he-said/she-said” journalism, readers weren’t treated to the whole story.

The New York Times provided a typical account, reprinting Cheney’s attack, followed by a response from the Kerry camp noting first that Cheney took Kerry’s comments out of context and, second, that Bush himself has called for a more “sensitive” foreign policy. The Times also went to the trouble of printing Bush’s own “sensitive” quote from March: “We must be sensitive about expressing our power and our influence.”

Inexplicably, however, The Times didn’t see fit to reprint Kerry’s original statement from the Unity conference, leaving readers in the dark as to what Kerry first said that set all this off. The New York Times Company’s other newspaper, The Boston Globe, managed to dedicate the 38 words of print space needed to provide the relevant context — including the words “more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive … war on terror.”

Campaigns set out everyday to use the press to pass on misleading statements, or quotes taken out of context, to the voters. Is it too much to ask for the press to call them on it when they do it, and to supply the missing words ?

Thomas Lang

Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.