April 18, 2008 12:32 pm

I was mulling over the ABC debate this morning and the moderators’ claim that knocking Obama with a more or less uninterrupted stream of Swift Boat gotchas was justified by focusing the debate on ‘electability’. And it occurred to me that we have now crossed an important threshold where the Republican operative cadre has sufficiently disciplined and trained the press (and more than a few Democrats) that their own role may simply be redundant.

Think about it. Organized campaigns of falsehoods, distortions and smears used to be something most people thought of as a bad thing, if not something that’s ever been too far removed from American politics. Now, however, members of the prestige press appear to see it not as a matter of guilty slumming but rather a positive journalistic obligation to engage in their own organized campaign of falsehood, distortion and smear on the reasoning that it anticipates the eventual one to be mounted by Republicans. In other words, we’ve gotten past the debatable rationale that journalists have no choice but to cover smears and distortions once they’re floated into the mainstream debate to thinking that journalists need to seek out and air smears and distortions on the grounds of electability, as though the mid-summer GOP Swiftboating was another de facto part of the election process like primaries, conventions and debates.

It’s an expansive rationale under which Gibson and Stephanopoulos may have failed their civic responsibility by not pressing the point of whether Obama is a hereditary Muslim or his mother had a predilection for dark-skinned socialists.

As I’ve noted it’s pretty nauseating and disillusioning that Sen. Clinton has now also convinced herself that she’s providing a service by mounting her own Swift Boat campaign. But she is after all running a campaign.

In any case, at this stage it’s not even clear the GOP slimesters ever have to come on the field. Journalists recognize their obligation to seek out potential Swift Boat tactics and do the job for them.

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