The Republican Media- No. 34
From Fox News, you would assume it. From CNN, you would expect it. But from the generally thorough and accurate Chuck Todd of NBC/MSNBC, you have a right to be astonished. As guest host of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show, Todd raised the issue of Mitt Romney's business background by saying to Dan Rather (as picked up by Crooks and Liars)
Dan, we know that this is, it feels right out of the 2004 Karl Rove playbook. In fact I think Charlie Cook wrote earlier this week that Karl Rove ought to get royalties from the Obama campaign on what they're doing. Essentially, they're Swiftboating Romney.
Heather of C&L, who points out that Joe Klein also is playing the game of false equivalence with Swift Boat and the Romney tax returns, expected guests Kathleen Parker and Gloria Borger to play along with Todd. Instead, Rather did not call him out, instead commenting "it seems out of Karl Rove's campaign playbook because it is out of Karl Rove's campaign playbook."
Rather, as a guest pundit, is entitled to his opinion, however (uncharacteristically) wrong he was. But Todd was cavalierly mistaking "balance" for fairness or objectivity. The Karl Rove playbook is not to have the candidate's campaign spokesperson, as in the case of Stephanie Cutter, make serious charges about the opposing candidate. It is to make things up and then have lower-ranking individuals spread rumor and gossip, or to do worse. With Mark White, it was an electronic listening device which Rove, managing the campaign of White's opponent, reported finding in his office. No one ever was found culpable but White's campaign was fatally damaged. Then it was Ann Richards, whom a whispering campaign accused of being a lesbian (at a time in which homosexuality was disqualifying for public office). For John McCain, it was suggesting to GOP primary voters that the candidate may have fathered a black child. Then it was John Kerry, about whom Rove's biographer notes
You could never see his fingerprints associated directly [with] the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who virulently attacked John Kerry's record, while at the same time George Bush was doing what he had always done in a Rove campaign: saluting the service of John Kerry. It's a pattern we've seen again and again and again, and it was very effective in 2004.
John Kerry earned three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, notwithstanding the accusations of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The most serious charge against Romney came from Obama campaign spokesperson Cutter, who argued "Either Mitt Romney through his own words and his own signature was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people." Romney was doing one or the other- and affixing his signature falsely probably would have been either perjury or securities fraud.
A severe reluctance to level with the American people is a central component of the campaign being waged against President Obama. Paul Krugman observes
...for several days running the central theme of the Romney campaign has rested on a complete lie. I understand; going on about the dishonesty can get boring. But we should step back often to look at this remarkable spectacle. I really don’t think there’s been anything like this in American political history: a presidential campaign, with a pretty good chance of winning, that is based entirely on cynical lies about what the sitting president has said. No, Obama hasn’t apologized for America; no, he hasn’t denigrated achievement. Yet take away those claims, and there’s nothing left in Romney’s rhetoric.
There are similarities between the charges against Kerry and those against Romney. But there are differences, too. The strong likelihood that the Swift Boat charges were trumped up and the Obama charge is accurate is not an inconsequential one. To suggest that they are parallel accusations is not only to mistake balance for objectivity but to diminish the importance of truth- which itself has become an integral part of Republican campaign strategy.