The Politico is in full anti-smear mode this evening, devoting a number of articles to attacking Jerome Corsi and, glancingly, the National Enquirer. I’m not here to defend either one, but it would be nice to see clearer thinking in some of our political commentary.
On Corsi, the Politico has posted two articles, “Corsi Book Tries to Undercut Obama” and “‘Obama Nation’ Author Has Lurid Past.” They are a combination of news and commentary — like we often do here on NRO — but they suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of Corsi. Both articles suggest that in Obama Nation, Corsi is trying to replicate what he did to John Kerry in 2004:
Four years ago this month, the release of a critical book by Jerome R. Corsi undercut the cornerstone of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s campaign narrative, his military service in Vietnam.
Now, Corsi has reappeared with another popular book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, attacking yet another Democratic nominee, Barack Obama…
Does anyone remember that the true author of the Swift Boat book was John O’Neill and the other Swift Boat veterans who served alongside Kerry in Vietnam? The power of the Swift Boat accusations was based on the fact that Kerry’s fellow officers believed him unfit to be commander-in-chief. They had specific stories, based on their first-hand memories, to tell about Kerry’s service in Vietnam. I’ve written before that some of those memories were accurate and some weren’t, but in any event, Jerome Corsi wasn’t part of that group. Personal testimony is powerful; Corsi didn’t have any to add to the Swift Boat accounts in 2004.
Now, Corsi’s Obama book, while selling well, doesn’t have the same impact. If he had written it with — to come up with a hypothetical — several of the ministers who worked with Obama in the 1980s who say he is unfit for office, then that would have been a big story, and comparable to the Swift Boat book. But those ministers aren’t saying that. This is not 2004.
On the Enquirer, the Politico story “Anatomy of a Smear” covers the Daily Mail story that George Clooney has been advising Obama on all sorts of substantive issues. The Politico story begins:
Anyone looking for a good reason why the mainstream media took so long to get onboard with the tabloid-sourced news about John Edwards’ affair need only look to a story that ran this week about Barack Obama and actor George Clooney.
OK. But might there be any difference between what the Enquirer reported and the Daily Mail piece? Politico says the Daily Mail story was “concocted from anonymous sources.” Indeed it was. Many other accounts I have seen say the Enquirer story was also based on anonymous sources. But the big Enquirer story that ran July 22 — the account of events at the Beverly Hilton hotel — was based on the first-hand accounts of the Enquirer’s reporters. They were at the hotel, they encountered Edwards, they described what they saw. They were happy to talk to reporters about it afterward. They used their names. All of that, it seemed to me, kicked the story onto a higher interest level than if it was based on actual anonymous sources. If you are a reporter, and you witness something, and you write about it under your own name, you might not be unquestionably reliable, but you are not an anonymous source. Other news organizations were under no obligation to repeat the Enquirer’s story, but it would have made sense to aggressively look into it. Most of them didn’t.
On both subjects, I think these misunderstandings are necessary to maintain two fundamental tenets of 2008 campaign coverage: a) Swift Boating was what Democrats say it was, and must be nipped in the bud this time around, and b) the Enquirer story was so unreliable that it did not even merit serious exploration. My guess is that those beliefs are pretty much unanimously held in many big news organizations.
THURSDAY UPDATE: After the Times and Politico yesterday, the Washington Post publishes its version of the Corsi story today.