We can say one thing for Mike Glover’s Associated Press dispatch today about a speech by John Kerry in Portland, Oregon: it practices equal opportunity in letting both campaigns get away with some dubious accusations.

First, Glover writes, “The Kerry campaign contended that Bush ‘stubbornly refuses to offer help’ even as higher gasoline prices will cost the average Oregon family an extra $1,006 a year.”

$1,006 a year? Where does that number come from?

There’s no word on that in Glover’s story, but a Kerry press release provides a little more information, asserting that “families have been forced to pay $.94 more per gallon — an additional $1,006 annually.” That assumes, then, that the Oregon “families” (never mind single people, who we all know take the bus) use an average of 1,070 gallons of gas a year. (Based on an average national fuel economy of 20.8 miles per gallon, that works out to about 22,250 miles per family per year.)

But the campaign doesn’t specify where they got their figure. So Glover might have pointed out that the Kerry camp’s evidence to support the charge isn’t exactly water-tight.

His treatment of the Bush camp’s response is even worse. Glover writes, “The Bush campaign criticized Kerry for supporting higher gas taxes in the past.”

But, as Factcheck.org has pointed out, that charge doesn’t hold water: It comes from a single quote Kerry gave to the Boston Globe in 1994. In fact, Kerry never proposed such legislation, and has since stated that he opposes it. That’s nowhere in Glover’s story.

The Bush campaign has gotten a lot of mileage out of the
“Kerry-supports-a-gas-tax-hike” charge. The accusation is so damaging, in their view, that they put it in a TV ad. That’s why it’s important that reporters point out the facts (or lack thereof) behind candidate attacks every time they come up.

Zachary Roth

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.