The conventions of “objective” journalism give a big edge to liars, and especially to those willing to make recklessly false charges.
Most reporters will report the false statement and its rebuttal by the victim or his friends as framing a debate, leaving the reader to choose (or dismiss both sides as untrustworthy), without any reference to facts in the real world that might help inform that choice.
People like Karl Rove know that, and it makes their style of politics possible. As Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said, you don’t have to prove your opponent is a pigf**ker; all you have to do is make him deny it.
However, there are ways reporters can avoid being made accessories to libel. Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post shows how the real pros do it:
The Bush campaign has repeatedly accused the senator of “politicizing” Iraq. Bush-Cheney chairman Marc Racicot told reporters Wednesday that Kerry is relentlessly “playing politics” and exploiting tragedy for political gain.
Racicot, for instance, told reporters that Kerry suggested that 150,000 or so U.S. troops are “somehow universally responsible” for the misdeeds of a small number of American soldiers and contractors. Racicot made several variations of this charge. But Kerry never said this, or anything like it.
As evidence, Racicot pointed to the following quote Kerry made at a fundraiser on Tuesday: “What has happened is not just something that a few a privates or corporals or sergeants engaged in. This is something that comes out of an attitude about the rights of prisoners of war, it’s an attitude that comes out of America’s overall arrogance in its policy that is alienating countries all around the world.”
What Racicot did not mention was that Kerry preceded this remark by saying, “I know that what happened over there is not the behavior of 99.9 percent of our troops.”
Kudos to VandeHei. I hope this starts a trend.