Thursday, August 19, 2004

Mythmaking at the Star Tribune

In conjunction with President Bush's appearance in St. Paul yesterday, the Democratic party brought in Max Cleland for a counter rally, of sorts, at the State Capital. Star Tribune reporter Conrad Defiebre reminds us who Cleland is. As you read this, bear in mind, it is a news article, not an editorial:

Cleland was defeated for reelection two years ago amid attack advertising that equated him with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. This year, Bush backers have suggested that Kerry faked the wounds that won him three Purple Hearts.

I'm not aware of any responsible party claiming Kerry faked his wounds. The main accusation, by the men he served with and the men who treated his wounds, is that they were too minor to be reasonably considered for a Purple Heart. But I'll ignore that for now.

What I'd like to address is the Cleland story. A myth perpetuated by the Democratic party and now dutifully retold, and exaggerated to an absurd new level, by a reporter, writing a news article, for the Star Tribune.

A good debunking summary of the myth is provided by Rich Lowry of National Review. And note, he's debunking the original Democratic strategy of accusing Republicans of "questioning Cleland's patriotism." The Star Tribune's Defiebre has personally super-sized the accusation, to Republicans equating Cleland to bin Laden. (Definition of equating: "to make, treat, or regard as equal or comparable.")

A better debunking of this charge is provided by our old friend, the Associated Press. This article was published by the Macon (GA) Telegraph during the Cleland - Saxby Chambliss race (October 11, 2002) and states:

The ad, sponsored by Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss' Senate campaign, doesn't directly compare Cleland and the rogue leaders but alleges the senator isn't telling the truth when he claims to support some of President Bush's efforts in the war against terrorism.

The ad's primary focus is Cleland's position on legislation creating a homeland security department Bush is seeking. Although Cleland supports one version of that bill, he says he won't support the president's preference without an amendment guaranteeing labor rights for federal workers.

Cleland himself is quoted as saying:

"To put my picture up there with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and insinuate I'm not fighting hard enough for national security, I just find that this is an incredible low in Georgia politics," Cleland said.

He's not saying the Republicans questioned his patriotism or equated him with bin Laden. He's angry at the actual substance of the ad, which is criticism of his voting record and the imagery used to help deliver that criticism.

Through the partisan rhetoric mists of two years, we come to the real controversy of this ad - the use of fighting terrorism as an issue in a political campaign. The wounds of 9/11 were much less healed in October of 2002. Much less so than today. Back then there was a prevailing, wishful mindset that we're all in this fight against terrorism together. And no one could be criticized for anything they did when it came to the fight, even if their actions were proving to be a hindrance.

But that's exactly what Saxby Chambliss did. In pointed fashion, he called out the fact that Cleland was subjugating the fight against terrorism (note, he equated terrorism with a picture of bin Laden) to protect a special interest group (big labor). To quote, the now distinguished Senator from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss:

"Georgians deserve to know - all Americans deserve to know - why Max Cleland is more concerned with protecting federal bureaucracy, rules and regulations than creating a department that can respond effectively to future threats of terrorism," Chambliss said.

It was an entirely legitimate point of criticism and a powerful one with the voters. Chambliss upset the incumbent Cleland, 53% - 46%.

And Democrats have been seething ever since. The primary reason for their rage was (and remains) the permanent lifting of the veil of silence. They could no longer could hide their partisan, and often times damaging, activities with regard to fighting terrorism, from criticism.

Now, two years later this rage has evolved in the form of a Star Tribune reporter, writing about the Presidential election, telling the readers that Republicans have equated a crippled war hero with a terrorist. Unbelievable.

In theory, it is impossible to have perfect objectivity reporting. One's perspective is necessarily tainted by life experience, education, episodes of indoctrination, now deeply ingrained in one's psyche. What you see is necessarily filtered through these lenses. Fine, perfect objectivity is a myth.

But, I'm not looking for perfection. I'm looking for a good faith attempt at an unbiased presentation of the news. Is that so unreasonable?

With the tiniest bit of effort in this regard, reviewing an artcle, keeping in mind the potential that it may unfairly swayed by a political bias (a review that could be done by the reporter or any number of editors) I don't see how that characterization of Cleland could ever get published.

That is the primary problem conservatives have with the Star Tribune. It's not merely the endemic bias produced by their insular liberal culture. This we can deal with. The real problem is the wanton disregard of the basic standards of journalism and the absence of effort to even try to be fair.

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