In which I criticize the Washington Post for its unfairness toward the Bush campaign.

Hey, wait a minute! I’m not one to believe in the myth of the liberal media, but this sort of language from a Washington Post news story strikes me as over the line:

The [Bush] 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.

Memeorandum has a good round-up of bloggic reactions to the story, but all of them seem to me to miss the basic analytic point.

With Bush running 75% negative ads (v. 27% negative among Kerry ads), for all practical purposes the negative ads are the Bush campaign.

And it’s not as if Bush and Rove had freely chosen a lying, negative campaign. It was forced on them by the logic of the situation.

Given that there’s nothing really good to say about the record of the past three and a half years, Bush has no real choice but to go negative. And given that there isn’t actually anything very bad in Kerry’s public record, those negative spots are going to have to contain a high proportion of lies.

Under those circumstances, if reporters start calling Team Bush for all its negativity and dishonesty they will give Kerry (running a more positive and less mendacious campaign) an advantage that Bush will not be able to overcome. Unless the press goes back to its habit of neutrally reporting false allegations from the Bush campaign as “charges” and then dutifully reporting the Kerry campaign’s answers to them, this election is going to be over before it starts.

So, although from an abstract perspective Milbank and VandeHei are just doing competent, objective reporting, from a practical viewpoint their pedantic insistence on the difference between truth and falsehood amounts to partisan bias. It’s not as bad as it would be if the press followed Josh Marshall’s absurd suggestion and called lies “lies” rather than using circumlocutions, but it’s pretty bad just the same.

I think, in this case, it would be only fair to let Bush’s people tell whatever lies they like about Kerry.

After all, fair’s fair.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “Unfair!”

  1. Kleiman on dope?

    Mark Kleiman says Team Bush is so screwed, it wouldn't be fair to objectively report on them: Under those circumstances, if reporters start calling Team Bush for all its negativity and dishonesty they will give Kerry (running a more positive…

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