The Post's article is sub-titled "scholars say campaign is making history with often-misleading attacks." But the only scholars cited who address the issue of whether the Bush ads contain history-making levels of misleading information are Jamieson and Stanford professor Shanto Iyengar. If one reads far enough, one finds Iyengar saying that Bush's ads are no more distorted than those that have appeared since "the beginning of time." Even Jamieson does not say that Bush's ads are more misleading than the norm. Rather, she claims that Bush has made more misleading statements than Kerry. She cites two reasons. First, Bush has leveled many more specific charges than Kerry has. Second, Kerry supposedly learned from the troubles caused by Gore's misstatements. Thus, even if one makes the leap of faith required to assume that Jamieson is a fair arbiter of what is honest, it seems that one need only go back as far as the year 2000 to find precedent for Bush's alleged level of dishonesty. But I suspect that one would back to 2000 in vain in search of front-page Washington Post articles about Gore's dishonesty.
The real source of the view that Bush is making history with misleading attacks is not "scholars" but Milbank himself. And he tries to back it up with a few examples. But nearly all of them turn out to be dubious. For example, Milbank considers it "a torrent of deception" for the Bush campaign to have said that "Kerry would raise taxes by at least $900 billion." Milbank notes that Kerry "has said no such thing; the number was developed by the Bush campaign's calculations of Kerry's proposals." But that is only misleading if the calculations are improper, and Milbank does not assert, much less show, that they are. Similarly, the Bush campaign is taken to task for claiming that Kerry "has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all." Milbank sniffs that "Kerry did not question the war on terrorism." I don't know what specific statement by Kerry (if any) the Bush campaign was referring to, but Kerry apparently has said that the threat of terrorism is exaggerated. Thus, without getting into metaphysical questions (e.g. what constitutes questioning what constitutes a war) it seems clear that Kerry has questioned the urgency of the fight against terrorism, which is the essence of the Bush campaign's charge.
The final word on this matter should go to Jamieson, again from her Clinton-defending days. Then, she said "it's important to know that Dole and Clinton differ on the minimum wage, that Dole and Clinton differ on family medical leave. Those are important distinctions. You learn about those distinctions in the Clinton ads." To the charge that Clinton was distorting Dole's views when his campaign said that Dole had opposed Medicare, Jamieson responded that you would expect Dole to correct the misleading inference that he didn't care about the health of the elderly in his own ads. I would argue that, today, it is important to know that Bush and Kerry differ on taxes and how to fight terrorism. And if Kerry wants the public to know that he thinks the war on terrorism is a war, albeit one of exaggerated importance, let is him say so in his own ads, rather than relying on Jamieson, Milbank and the Washington Post.
"By all means, read the article, which, if following the dictates of Strunk & White, might be titled "Bush Campaign Lies with Unprecedented Frequency". But if you'd like a more immediate and tangible read on the sorts of campaigns the two are running, stop by the campaign sites of President Bush and John Kerry.
"Now, look at how often, candidate A's face appears on the front page of candidate B's website, and vice versa. For instance, as of the early morning hours of Monday, John Kerry's face appears 6 times on the front of the Kerry website, while President Bush's face appears not once. On Bush's website, Kerry's face appears 4 times. Bush's face, not once. "
We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.
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