Last week, the DNC sent out fundraising e-mails accusing Romney of being directly responsible for the more strident aspects of the 2012 GOP platform (with which he’s expressed disagreement), on the basis of six words in a Los Angeles Times article about the platform: “written at the direction of Romney’s campaign.” The only problem is, as Anderson Cooper pointed out to Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s indignant denials last week (and as Greg Pollowitz noted in this space), that is incredibly unfair, and the L.A. Times article does nothing to suggest that the Romney campaign wanted, say, more absolutist language on abortion.
Now the Obama campaign is resorting to the same dishonest tactic. A fundraising e-mail I received from deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter tonight:
The New York Times called it “mean-spirited,” “aggressive,” and “intolerant.”
They’re referring to the Republican Party platform. And surprise, surprise: The Los Angeles Times reported that it was “written at the direction of Romney’s campaign.”
On national television this week, we’ll be hearing a different story, as the Republicans try to convince voters that the Romney-Ryan ticket is on the side of the middle class. . . .
But if you read the L.A. Times piece in question, you get a very different story:
There is no doubt about who is in charge, of course. Delegates for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney are voting down substantive changes to the platform language that was written at the direction of Romney’s campaign. The biggest question is whether the tone remains polite, as it was at the outset of two days of deliberations, or whether dissenters spoil the image of harmony that the Romney campaign is working hard to produce.
It suggests exactly the opposite of what Cutter pretends it says: The Romney campaign’s directions were actually to keep the platform mild, not to sharpen it; if anything, they were voting down “aggressive” and “intolerant” alterations (to adopt the Times’s hysterical diction). The citation of the L.A. Times here is almost laughable — why not just accuse Romney of, you know, being the nominee of the party that produced the platform? — but it does get to another problem in the world of campaign attacks, assertions, and fact-checking: the citation of objective media sources in misleading or completely dishonest ways. Virtually every attack ad now includes a citation, usually from a mainstream-media outlet, for each of its specific assertions, but the ads themselves, like this fundraising e-mail, are hardly the more honest for it. They might even be more deceptive, since surely more of the audience will, seeing the citation, now automatically trust the assertion is fact than will go check out the source to see how true it is.
Thus, the practice causes some of the same issues raised by fact-checking operations such as PolitiFact (skewered by the NR editors on Tuesday), or attempts by news anchors to “fact-check” their guests (here I discussed about Soledad O’Brien’s flacking for the Obama campaign under this guise). Our political arguments are increasingly festooned with mentions of “the facts” but aren’t necessarily any more faithful to them; in fact, they could be less so.