Kudos to Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times for highlighting a major slip-up by the press corps last week.

An ad unveiled by Team Bush Thursday accused Sen. John Kerry of planning to raise taxes by $900 billion. Kerry has never endorsed a $900 billion tax increase. But the president’s campaign manager argued that, since Kerry has pledged not to increase Bush’s projected $520 billion deficit, and the senator’s health care proposal would cost an estimated $900 billion, he would have to raise taxes by that amount to pay for it.

Kerry’s campaign pointed out that it’s unfair to assume that every penny spent on health care would add to the tax burden. And Brownstein notes that while the various tax hikes Kerry has proposed do approach $900 billion, that figure leaves out several tax cuts Kerry has endorsed to offset some of those hikes.

Brownstein deserves a nod here precisely because in too many instances, the press was content simply to reproduce the misleading charge in the ad, sometimes with a pro forma one-line denial from the Kerry camp. Few reporters made any attempt to sort thru the facts of the issue, and offer readers an independent judgment on the accuracy of the claim.

And as Paul Waldman, writing on the The Gadflyer points out, now that the campaigns know that the press won’t necessarily call them out for misleading ads, they’re likely to run more of them.

Zachary Roth

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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.