This is an interesting editorial on the media (emphasis added):

Published June 3, 2004
Minneapolis Star Tribune

For some time, much of American journalism has suffered from a professional blind spot that caused poor service to listeners, readers and viewers. Many practitioners of the craft somehow lost the difference between being neutral and being objective. That’s beginning to change now, and it’s a very good thing for this democracy.

The difference between neutrality and objectivity is this: Neutrality requires that you give equal billing to people who say the earth is flat and those who say it is round. Objectivity allows you to point out the evidence that the flat-earth folks are wrong. In political reporting, neutrality stops at saying candidate X says this and candidate Y says that, without any attempt to explain who is right and who is wrong and in what degree.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is the most prominent example of the newly rediscovered requirements of objectivity. In Sunday’s Post, Milbank and reporter Jim VandeHei had a story headlined, “From Bush, unprecedented negativity.” The two chronicled the attacks on Sen. John Kerry the week before:

  • Vice President Dick Cheney said Kerry “has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all” and said Kerry “promised to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts within his first 100 days in office.”
  • Bush’s campaign aired an ad “saying Kerry would scrap wiretaps that are needed to hunt terrorists.”
  • The Bush team asserted “that Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents.”
  • Another Bush ad said that “Kerry now opposes education changes that he supported in 2001.”

Then came the essential paragraph: “The charges were all tough, serious — and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications.”

The two reporters went on to report that “scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts.”

This kind of truth-telling has been aided by the emergence of Web sites such as the nonpartisan, run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. It documents exaggeration and outright lies by both parties. By far the most examples, and the most egregious ones, this year have come from the Bush campaign.

In pointing to the qualitative and quantitative difference, the two Washington Post reporters also avoided another problem of slipshod reporting that has bugged people for years. Democratic strategist James Carville put it this way in 1992: “We say one plus one equals three, and the Bush folks say one plus one equals three thousand, and you write, ‘both campaigns wrong.’ “

In the Milbank-VandeHei piece, one expert says the Bush campaign is so negative because it has no choice: “With low poll numbers and a volatile situation in Iraq, Bush has more hope of tarnishing Kerry’s image than promoting his own.”

But this “devil made me do it” defense is far too kind. The Bush family has always campaigned this way reflexively; it’s what they do, along with smearing anyone who disagrees with them. Just consider the smears of the past year, of people like Ambassador Joe Wilson, counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick and ABC newsman Jeffrey Kofman (he’s Canadian and he’s gay, so don’t believe his reports about low morale in Iraq).

Democracy, the old saying goes, is a contact sport. You expect vigorous give-and-take, and you allow for a certain amount of rhetorical spin. But blatant lies and smears are an attempt to undermine democracy by presenting Americans with a false choice, in this case with a false John Kerry. It will take journalism of the Milbank-VandeHei variety to ensure you understand that.

© Copyright 2004 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

And this is an interesting piece on the dollar.


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