Here's something else to look into. As we've noted in recent posts, Republicans are arguing that they've been the victim of 527s (i.e., "shadowy groups") just as much as Sen. Kerry has been the victim of SBVT.
Now, my guiding assumption in this case is that Republicans are having difficulty -- willful or otherwise -- in distinguishing between negative and/or hard-hitting ads and ones that peddle demonstrable falsehoods -- i.e., smears. (You know, it's that old, hard distinction between 'mean' and 'untrue'.) And, frankly, everything I've seen thus far lends credence to my assumption.
If you look at the talking points out of the Bush campaign in the last few days one of the key slanders that Democratic 527s have made against the president is the claim that he has been "poisoning pregnant women"
On August 20th Bush campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin said that Democratic 527s had been "accusing President Bush of poisoning pregnant women."
The same day on Wolf Blitzer's show Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Repya, a Bush surrogate debating Kerry surrogate Retired U.S. Air Force General Tony McPeak, said that Democratic "527 groups [had been] alleging that the president is poisoning pregnant women."
And to top it all off, the same night on Lou Dobbs show, Jill Dougherty decided simply to cut to the chase and repeat the claim on the Republicans' behalf, telling Dobbs: Republicans "say that groups funded by the Democrats have accused President Bush of everything from 'poisoning pregnant women' to complicity to with what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison."
(When you get to the end of this post you might consider contacting Dougherty at CNN and asking whether she made any effort to find out what was behind the charge she repeated.)
Now, I won't force upon you every time this has been said by a Bush campaign surrogate or employee in the last week. But I should add that Chairman Marc Racicot has been saying this repeatedly on shows across the dial all week.
So what's the story?
As nearly as I can figure the culprit here is an ad run in March by Moveon.org and the Environmental Working Group Action Fund. Here's a segment from CNN from March 26th, 2004 in which Karenna Gore Schiff -- Al Gore's daughter -- discusses the ad with CNN anchor Heidi Collins (it also includes the text of the ad) ...
Turning now to an important health issue. There's an ongoing debate about how safe it is to eat fish, especially for children and pregnant women. Karenna Gore Schiff, daughter of the former vice president says the Bush administration isn't doing enough to lower the level of dangerous pollutants. I spoke to Karenna Gore about her latest efforts.
COLLINS: Karenna, you paired up with Moveon.org in a campaign that includes an ad that's very critical about pollution and mercury and I want to go ahead and take a listen, for just a minute, to that ad.
AD ANNOUNCER: Mercury is a dangerous poison still be produced by coal-burning power plants. It gets into the air, the water, and then into the fish we eat, causing brain damage in children. President Bush has taken a lot of money from the people who own those power plants and now he wants the EPA to change the law to say that mercury isn't so dangerous. That means our children will go on eating mercury in their tuna, risking brain damage. Tell the EPA not to let this happen.
COLLINS: Are you really suggesting that the Bush administration is putting babies at risk?
KARENNA GORE SCHIFF, AL GORE'S DAUGHTER: I think that this policy does put babies at risk, because mercury is a very potent neuro toxin. We know that it comes from coal-burning power plants and we know that the emissions can be reduced dramatically with available technology. But the Bush administration is preventing the plan that was in place from going forward which would make our children safer.
(Here's some more information from a press conference held in conjunction with the launch of the commercial. Also, for what it's worth, it's not clear to me that the ad was funded by Moveon's 527 arm -- Moveon Voter Fund -- or its PAC. But frankly I'd just as soon not buy into the Bush campaign's argument that the legal structure of these different groups is the point at issue rather than the content of the ads.)
Now from there we have to make our way to a blurb put out by Senator Inhofe's staff on the Environment & Public Works Committee ...
The financially loaded liberal special interest group Moveon.org, the Sierra Club and many other liberal special interest groups well known for their âAnyone but Bushâ smear campaign are reaching deep into their bag of dirty tricks to defeat President Bush this fall.
Their claim this time? President Bush is poisoning pregnant women and their unborn child with mercury found in fish.
The reference to the Sierra Club would appear to be a reference to ads they ran on the Mercury issue in April 2004, one of which refers to "birth defects and learning disabilities" which can be caused by mercury. You can find links to the text of those ads along with pro-mercury counter-points from the scientists at the Journal editorial page and the Washington Times on this RNC Adwatch site (scroll down to April).
So here we're from the ad about the mercury levels debate to the claim that "President Bush is poisoning pregnant women and their unborn child." Presumably this charge was going to get mixed in with similar charges that President Bush was cutting off the head's of the poor and sticking them on pikes surrounding the White House grounds.
(In any case, I put in a query to the folks at the Bush campaign and asked whether this was indeed the ad they were talking about. I received back word from Alison Harden at the Bush campaign who told me: "I believe that is the ad he is referring to - the ridiculous move on ad that has the pregnant woman drinking water w mercury.")
I'll let you be the judge of what this amounts to. But it seems pretty clear to me that the Bush camp is lying almost as much about the Democratic independent expenditure ads as they're lying in the smears they're running about John Kerry's military service. (For another like example see this.)
And, again, was it that Republicans seem to have such a hard time distinguishing between ads with a factual basis and ones that include malicious falsehoods. It's such a mystery. I have to assume it's another example of the GOP's embrace of epistemological relativism -- all truths are equal, there is no truth, only opinion masquerading as truth, etc.