Say it isn't so! http://www.spinsanity.org/ The slippery Standard (6/8) By Brendan Nyhan In this week's issue of the Weekly Standard (subscription required), the magazine engages in a thoroughly dishonest attack on a recent Washington Post story about the 2004 presidential race. The Post article, which has drawn wide attention, claimed that President Bush's attacks on Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, have been particularly negative and deceptive. Writing in the Scrapbook section, the Standard suggests that it is debunking all of the allegations of deception made by Post reporters Dana Milbank and Jim Vandehei, saying they "[purport] to identify four such Bush campaign claims: (1) that Kerry has, in Dick Cheney's words, 'questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all'; (2) that Kerry would 'repeal most of the Bush tax cuts'; (3) that Kerry would scrap anti-terrorist wiretaps authorized by the USA Patriot Act; and (4) that 'Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents.' All of these claims, Milbank and VandeHei report, are false. No, they aren't." However, the Post article actually criticizes at least ten suspect claims. In addition, the magazine's attacks on Post's reporting are highly misleading for the three of the four claims in question. The first, as the Standard describes it, is that "Kerry has, in Dick Cheney's words, 'questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all.'" Not so, the magazine claims, writing that "On more than one occasion, Kerry has described the war on terror as 'fundamentally an intelligence operation and law enforcement operation and a diplomatic operation.'" However, this completely mischaracterizes the point made in Milbank and VandeHei's article, which goes on to explain the justification Cheney cites for his assertion: "Senator Kerry," Cheney said, "has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all. He said, quote, 'I don't want to use that terminology.' In his view, opposing terrorism is far less of a military operation and more of a law enforcement operation." But Kerry did not say what Cheney attributes to him. The quote Cheney used came from a March interview with the New York Times, in which Kerry used the phrase "war on terror." When he said "I don't want to use that terminology," he was discussing the "economic transformation" of the Middle East -- not the war on terrorism. This distortion of Kerry's words, which Bush and Cheney have repeated for several months, is completely ignored in the Standard's supposed refutation. Similarly, the Standard says Bush's claim that Kerry would "scrap" wiretap provisions of the Patriot Act is correct, citing a recent statement in which he said "there are several provisions in the Patriot Act--the sneak-and-peek searches, the roving wiretap, the library pieces, a couple of those--that ought to be changed," and "if I'm president, I will not allow [the Patriot Act] to go through with those provisions." In fact, as even the quote in question makes clear, Kerry said the policies "ought to be changed," not scrapped. As Milbank and VandeHei point out, "Kerry has proposed modifying those provisions by mandating tougher judicial controls over wiretaps and subpoenas, but not repealing them." By ignoring the Democrat's support for such measures with tougher controls, the magazine again misleads its readers. The Standard also attacks Milbank and VandeHei's claim that Bush falsely stated that "Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents": Milbank and VandeHei say Bush is claiming that "Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents." But the relevant Bush ad says merely that Kerry once supported a 50-cent tax on gasoline, a vote Kerry has publicly acknowledged. Milbank and VandeHei report that the ad "implies that the proposal is current," but they're wrong; the ad "implies" nothing at all. According to its script, Kerry "supported a 50-cent increase in gas prices," period. Note the past tense. Actually, Kerry never voted for a 50-cent gasoline tax increase as the Standard claims - Bush's campaign has not made this charge (in the television ad in question, it is referring to a ten-year-old statement the Senator made to a newspaper that he has since retracted), nor has Kerry "publicly acknowledged" it. The reality is that the Bush campaign's phrasing has usually not been as blatant as Milbank and VandeHei's wording suggests, but it has insinuated that Kerry supports such a policy today (as we have previously written). The next line of the ad in question, for instance, refers to "Kerry's tax increase" as if it were a current proposal, saying "If Kerry's tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year." And Tucker Eskew, a Bush campaign advisor, said on the April 2 edition of MSNBC's "Hardball" that "John Kerry doesn't have a plan [to deal with high gas prices]. He has a 50 cent a gallon tax increase." Finally, the magazine distorts the views of two scholars quoted in the article: Note, too, how feebly the Milbank-VandeHei report manages to support the promise of its headline ["From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity: Scholars Say Campaign Is Making History With Often-Misleading Attacks"]. Do "scholars say," in fact, that George W. Bush is running a reelection campaign of "unprecedented negativity" and "misleading attacks"? Maybe, but Milbank and VandeHei haven't found them. One political scientist they interview says he "anticipates" that "it's going to be the most negative campaign ever." Note the future tense. Another political scientist, however, says that Bush's "distortions" are no worse than those presidential candidates have been making since "the beginning of time." Actually, Milbank and VandeHei quote a scholar saying precisely what they deny. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania communications professor, told them that "There is more attack now on the Bush side than you've historically had in the general-election period against either candidate," adding that "This is a very high level of attack, particularly for an incumbent." Jamieson's statement is somehow omitted. In addition, the first political scientist the Standard mentions, Darrell West of Brown University, also supported the thesis of the article more directly than the magazine acknowledges (it even misquotes him as saying "anticipates" rather than "anticipating"): Brown University professor Darrell West, author of a book on political advertising, said Bush's level of negative advertising is already higher than the levels reached in the 2000, 1996 and 1992 campaigns. And because campaigns typically become more negative as the election nears, "I'm anticipating it's going to be the most negative campaign ever," eclipsing 1988, West said. "If you compare the early stage of campaigns, virtually none of the early ads were negative, even in '88." Of course, the magazine may find these statements unconvincing or insufficient justification for the headline of the article (the Post ombudsman argued that it was overstated). But by distorting the facts so heavily, it misinforms its readers and does a disservice to Milbank and VandeHei. Rather than demanding a retraction from the Post, the Standard should take a closer look at its own work.