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Jewish World Review
Feb. 28, 2008
/ 22 Adar I 5768
When attacks backfire
Even Hillary Clinton, who first identified the vast, right-wing conspiracy and blamed a conservative attack machine for dredging up scandals about her husband, must be astonished. The New York Times, and to a lesser degree the Washington Post, have managed to do what Gary Bauer, Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney and a slew of Ronald Reagan acolytes have thus for been unable to accomplish for Republicans: rally a hesitant conservative base around John McCain.
Only weeks ago, Newsweek's cover ominously predicted "There will be blood" above a tower of conservative pundits who have expressed their dislike for the Arizona senator's ideological vacillations. There may yet be some cuts and bruises, but you can put away the body bags.
If there's one thing conservatives dislike more than unreliable political leadership, it's the reliable way in which the mainstream media can be counted upon to unfairly attack conservatives. And for conservatives, the Time's hit-piece on John McCain is a lurid demonstration of the conscience of liberal journalism.
Are anonymous allegations of infidelity from a decade ago really headline material when Team Clinton is campaigning for the White House? Is it more shocking to discover McCain occasionally might not have lived up to his own high ethics standards than it is to watch water-walking Barack Obama waffle on an explicit pledge to accept public financing for the general election?
The selective quotes and rejection of facts countering the perception that McCain is in thrall to lobbyists particularly blond ones were so appalling that even Lanny Davis, who served as special counsel in the Clinton White House, felt compelled to respond from his blog on the liberal Huffington Post.
Davis was a lobbyist for one of the three parties that sought McCain's intervention with the Federal Communications Commission in the case that allegedly lies at the nexus of his romantic and ethical wanderings. "Bottom line: what was omitted from both the Times and the Post stories was that what I wanted Senator McCain to do, he refused to do," Davis wrote. "And he did so out of a concern of appearances of impropriety. That is a fact."
The scandalous story scandalous in the sense that it was scandalously reported ran more than 3,000 words from the front page of the Times. The newspaper confirmed the perception of bias and stoked more conservative ire by following with a 1,000-word report about reactions to the story, including McCain's denials on page A20.
Compare the mainstream media's handling of this thinly sourced story to one that raged on the Internet last fall when the race for the Democratic nomination was still wide open. John Edwards was the target of that gossip campaign, which eventually made it into print on the pages of the National Enquirer.
The mainstream media responsibly rejected the tale, one constructed with anonymous sources and that seemed to derive its credibility from explicit denials of outrageous rumor. When it comes to the Republican front-runner, however, a different set of journalistic standards appears to be at work.
McCain, who in his life has dealt with more sinister adversaries than pundits and reporters, comes out of this sordid affair smelling like a conservative rose. Talk radio is abuzz, not about McCain's alleged apostasy, but rather about his media martyrdom.
He's even managed to turn it to his advantage with independent voters who will decide the election. A popular knock against McCain is his volatility and purported lack of temperament for the presidency. Yet there he was on national television, calmly rebuffing the assault on his character with nothing more brash than, "Obviously, I'm very disappointed in the article; it's not true."
The crafty way this negative news has improbably fortified the McCain campaign is too good to be true. It almost makes you wonder if that vast, right-wing conspiracy isn't at work on the pages of the New York Times. Almost.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department.
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