Posted by: mutantpoodle | July 31, 2008

Letter to the Reporter

baghdad-john-709366This section, of this piece in this morning’s LA Times on how McCain and Obama were both trying to define Obama, annoyed me more than a little:

Over the course of several days, [McCain] also has attacked Obama for canceling a visit to wounded U.S. soldiers at a military hospital because he couldn’t bring reporters along. Obama’s campaign has angrily disputed the charge as false and misleading.

Because, of course, it’s a lie.

The LA Times now prints the e-mail addresses of the reporters who are bylined on any given news story. I can only imagine some of the crap they have to wade through – or delete instantly – as a result of that policy. So I sent Bob Drogin and Peter Nicholas the following respectful e-mail:

Gentlemen –

I read with interest your article in this morning’s Times, about how both the Obama and McCain campaigns are focusing their efforts on defining Barack Obama.

While the bulk of your piece made sense, two sentences jumped out at me:

“Over the course of several days, he also has attacked Obama for canceling a visit to wounded U.S. soldiers at a military hospital because he couldn’t bring reporters along. Obama’s campaign has angrily disputed the charge as false and misleading.”

While it is true that the Obama camp has denounced the ad as false and misleading, so has NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who was on the trip with Obama and referred to the charge as “literally untrue”, the Washington Post, which in a page one story yesterday said there was “no evidence” that the charge was true, and Karen Tumulty of Time magazine, who, in linking to the Post story, said it was “absolutely consistent” with her reporting.

I understand that the normal back-and-forth of politics leads to a “he-said-he said” structure. But sometimes, it’s “he said, and he was wrong.” This is one of those times. Furthermore, Business Week reported on Monday that the McCain campaign was ready to attack Obama for visiting the wounded troops in Germany: “What the McCain campaign doesn’t want people to know, according to one GOP strategist I spoke with over the weekend, is that they had an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops saying that Obama was…wait for it…using wounded troops as campaign props. So, no matter which way Obama turned, McCain had an Obama bashing ad ready to launch. I guess that’s political hardball. But another word for it is the one word that most politicians are loathe to use about their opponents—a lie.”

I think it’s safe to say that more attack ads are forthcoming. If you end up reporting on them, please try to find out where the truth lies, and whether the ads conform – totally, marginally, or not at all – to that truth. That goes for both sides – I am clearly an Obama partisan, but I am not asking that you tilt towards him. I am asking that, when candidates or their campaigns make claims – especially disparaging ones – you do more than find the obligatory denunciation from the other side.

If it’s possible, tell us who’s right.

To his credit, Bob Drogin replied:

Thank you for your note. You make a valid and valuable point.
Sincerely,
Bob Drogin

We’ll see if future stories benefit at all from this valid and valuable point. Perhaps, sometime before November 4th, the press will be able to call lies lies and not hide behind the too-forgiving “misleading” appellation. And because I like to help, here’s a handy guide:

When you use facts out of context to paint someone in a bad light, that’s misleading.

When you make shit up, that’s a lie.

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