Politics & Policy

Lies, Damned Lies, and Journalists

Who's telling the biggest whoppers?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the November 8, 2004, issue of National Review.

Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News, became the center of a minor tempest when an internal memo of his leaked to the Drudge Report. The memo, dated October 8, said that the Bush campaign was telling more, and bigger, lies than the Kerry campaign:

The New York Times (Nagourney/Stevenson) and Howard Fineman on the web both make the same point today: the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done. Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and [makes] mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win. We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn’t mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides “equally” accountable when the facts don’t warrant that.

In Halperin’s memo, both sides, equally, found their prejudices confirmed. Left-wingers saw in it further proof that President Bush is a shameless liar: The fair-minded, objective observers at ABC said so. Conservatives grimly noted the liberal bias of the media. But if what Halperin said was true, his memo would not be proof of bias. Surely there are sometimes elections that pit dishonest Republicans against relatively upstanding Democrats. In such cases, Halperin would be quite right: The press should not pretend that both campaigns are playing politics the same way. So the question is, Is Bush in fact being more deceptive than Kerry?

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Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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