Editor’s Note: Despite the conventional wisdom that the U.S. news media is “in the tank” for Barack Obama, something close to the opposite seems to be true, as many political reporters repeat scurrilous attacks on the Democrat without fact-checking or grill him in interviews to show how tough they can be.

For instance, Big Media acted almost as a surrogate for John McCain in pounding Obama over the Iraq War “surge” and in misrepresenting his comments to a closed Democratic caucus. In this guest essay, Brent Budowsky also recalls the silence of the press when McCain lied about Obama’s canceled visit to a U.S. troop hospital:

What is the responsibility of reporters, editors and publishers when a candidate for high office is the target of a campaign of attack and personal destruction employing the systematic use of lies, smears, innuendo and character assassination?

J'accuse: What is happening in the 2008 general election is that Senator McCain has (literally) hired highest level operatives who worked for George Bush and Karl Rove (this is simply a fact) and is employing the carbon copy tactics that Rove used against his political opponents (including McCain himself).

When the Bush campaign, and independent committees whose leaders and fundraisers had long and close ties to Bush and Rove, waged a campaign of personal destruction against the heroism of Senator John Kerry in Vietnam, was it proper that these attacks were given by many in the media credibility and visibility?

It is true, Kerry fell short in responding, which Kerry is the first to concede today. It is also true that the many in the media became de facto partners and propagators of the smear by inadequate fact-checking, a false understanding of the proper notion of balance, and sporting-event-style coverage during which the smears were given equal weight with the truth.

This is a fact: Today Barack Obama is subject to what is probably the greatest concentrated attacks of smears, lies and innuendo in the lifetime of anyone who reads these words.

Consider this: John McCain in personal appearances, in his campaign staff presentations and various media and ads, falsely and aggressively accused Barack Obama of neglecting wounded troops.

McCain, widely reported by most media with virtually no fact-checking or refutation until days after McCain's attacks, accused Barack Obama of planning to bring political reporters to his visit with wounded troops. As every single reporters from every media organization covering Obama knew, that charge was either a deliberate lie or a total ignorance of the facts.

McCain charged that Obama wanted to bring cameras to photograph the event. Totally false, and every reporter on the Germany trip knew it. McCain charged that Obama chose playing basketball instead of visiting wounded troops. Totally false and every reporter on that trip knew it. McCain charged that Obama wanted to bring political staff people to the wounded troops and that, too, is totally false.

Let's be crystal clear, Obama was accompanied by a giant horde of reporters and every one of them knew these charges were totally untrue, completely, fairly described as slander or smear and arguably constituting direct lies when they were repeated by McCain and his staff, again and again, well after the facts were clear to all.

For McCain to repeat false charge after false charge about Obama's desire to visit wounded troops, when every reporter with Obama knew they were false, and for the major media to take almost a week to timidly and belatedly note that the charges were false, well after the political damage to Obama had been done, with the truth given virtually no prominence compared to the falsehood, is a professional failure of countless reporters, editors and publishers covering the campaign.

It is 100% true that McCain's campaign now includes senior advisors to Karl Rove and George Bush using identical personal attack strategies. It is 100% true that McCain, who based his so-called maverick appeal on a higher standard of politics, has chosen a campaign strategy that is almost exclusively based on personal attacks on Obama.

We live in serious times that demand serious people. Our campaign reporting has far too often degenerated into a flying circus of irrelevant punditry, where even the most dishonest and false charges are given credibliity and prominence, and where serious issues are rarely discussed in serious ways.

In fact Obama, McCain and Hillary Clinton all have proposed major initiatives that have been largely ignored in substance while the quality of our politics degenerated and the quality of our political coverage lagged, and lags, light years behind an American electorate deeply concerned about our nation and their future and yearning for serious discussion that they rarely receive in political media today.

There are ample grounds to fairly challenge and criticize Barack Obama, and all other candidates, on news and opinion pages. Obama should be challenged about whether his experience is sufficient for the presidency. Obama's policies can and should be challenged, dissected, debated, rebutted and criticized.

But Obama is currently facing an underground campaign of racial and religious attacks from sources outside conventional media and outside the campaign management of candidates.

He is also subject to a deliberate, orchestrated and sytematic personal attack from his opponent including attacks that have included false charges, included in ads that have been run and rerun on television news shows, at no charge to McCain, without aggressive and simultaneous refutation of false charges as in the wounded troops case.

Whether the target is McCain or Obama, reporting should rise in support of the facts and truth wherever they lead, whomever they help or harm.

In this case the target is Barack Obama, and while it is his job to run his campaign, it is our job, as columnists, reporters, editors and publishers to find and report the truth and whether the charges in campaigns of personal destruction are true or false.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. A contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service, he can be read on The Hill newspaper. (This essay first appeared in at Editor & Publisher's Web site.) He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

To comment at Consortiumblog, click here. (To make a blog comment about this or other stories, you can use your normal e-mail address and password. Ignore the prompt for a Google account.) To comment to us by e-mail, click here. To donate so we can continue reporting and publishing stories like the one you just read, click here.

Back to Home Page