Will the canons of journalistic objectivity buckle under the weight of the president’s lies?
That’s the question raised, albeit implicitly, in an article in the Times today by Adam Nagourney and Richard Stevenson entitled “In His New Attacks, Bush Pushes Limit on the Facts.”
The awkward generosity of that headline touches the essence of the problem. It’s obvious to pretty much everyone watching these final weeks of the campaign that in response to the setback of the first debate the president’s advisors decided that he would only be able to win by moving from harsh attacks and distortions of his opponent’s record to straight out lies.
Yet by the rules of daily newspaper and television journalism it’s not possible to quite say that — a blind spot of the profession which Mike Kinsley has spoken about eloquently for many years.
So the Times frames the matter this way. After noting how the president dramatically ramped up his criticisms after last week’s debate, the authors write: “in the process, several analysts say, Mr. Bush pushed the limits of subjective interpretation and offered exaggerated or what some Democrats said were distorted accounts of Mr. Kerry’s positions on health care, tax cuts, the Iraq war and foreign policy.”
‘Several analysts say’.
They can’t get themselves to say it, even though the authors of the piece, Nagourney and Stevenson, are seasoned political reporters who know the relevant facts perfectly well enough to make the judgment themselves.
This isn’t an indictment of these two reporters. It’s a recognition of the system they’re working in, and the tactical advantages it gives to liars.
Give the piece a look and see the level of indirection they feel obliged to use in discussing the fact the Bush campaign has made a decision to completely toss aside any serious pretense of telling the truth. Like Sherman’s Army cutting their supply lines in their March to the Sea, the Bush campaign is cutting itself free from any semblance of the truth with the expectation that they can live off the rhetorical fat of the land until November 3rd.