Sunday, October 08, 2006

That Was Then But This Is Now

On September 24, the Tribune ran a major across-the-top editorial attacking a political ad that has never actually run in Arizona. This followed an editorial in the Arizona Republic similarly attacking the ad the previous Tuesday. So both papers have gotten their knickers all twisted about an ad that nobody has seen here. Must be some ad. My piece ran with an op-ed by Le Templar, justifying their position, which repeated an error in their 2004 position claiming that they were saving free speech from both Bush and Kerry, who, according to the Tribune, both had called for government regulation:

In August 2004, presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry both wanted to cut off the ability of independent groups called "527s" to raise money and to craft commercials attacking election candidates. We said at that time such government interference would run afoul of the right to speak freely about politics, even when such talk includes inaccurate information or inflammatory language.

That's what the previous Tribune editorial page editor Bob Schuster wrote in 2004, but he was wrong on the facts then, and now Le has repeated his mistake. For his part, Bush didn't say he wanted to ban 527s; he was somewhat inarticulate but he called only for a ban on 527s using "soft dollars." Those groups could run all the ads they wanted, saying whatever they wanted, but only using hard dollars. Bush only called for a change in the campaign finance rules that (surprise!) would have benefited Republicans and hurt Democrats. For his part, Kerry never called for any legal ban on 527's or any governmental review of their speech--he said only that the wildly inaccurate Swift Boat ads should be out of bounds, just like you say about Vote Vets, but somehow you never managed to get around to the accuracy of the Swift Boat ads because you've been too wrapped up in Bob's inaccurate portrayal of both Bush's and Kerry's positions on 527s in 2004.

I wrote about Bob's erroneous attribution of positions that neither Bush nor Kerry actually held, pointing out that neither candidate actually said what Bob said they did. Maybe I'm wrong. If Le can find some documentation of Kerry calling for legal or governmental review of speech by 527s, I'll gladly apologize, but I've checked again and Kerry never said what the Tribune now twice has said he did, and in reality Bush never did either. Bob misstated both Bush's and Kerry's position on this issue in 2004, and now Le is doing it again to justify why the Tribune never spoke out about the accuracy of the Swift Boat ads (which were seen here) but are suddenly running a truth squad on the Vote Vets ad (that hasn't been seen here). The government regulation argument is factually incorrect--that is, if Tribune editorials should be held to the standard of truthfulness they want to apply to Vote Vets. If they're using the Swift Boat standard of "truthiness," that's another matter, but they should have let me know so I could have matched their accuracy more precisely.

That's way more than you need on this issue. Sorry, but that's what happens when it's something I know about (and when I can quote myself--how weird is that?) On with the column!

That Was Then, But This Is Now
East Valley Tribune, Oct. 1, 2006

Last Sunday, upset by an ad from Vote Vets, an “independent” political committee that’s endorsed more Democrats than Republicans, attacking GOP incumbents for voting against money for body armor for troops in Iraq, the Tribune editorialized that the ad shouldn’t run, because it’s “wrong,” “patently false,” and a “waste" of time and money.

Maybe so -- but that never bothered the Tribune before.

Both daily metro Phoenix newspapers have run major editorials attacking an ad yet to appear here. The ad must be incredibly powerful to goad both papers into preemptive attacks -- and hopefully for the GOP incumbent, this preemptive war works out better than Iraq.

The Tribune editorial shared one error with the initial analysis by, which took a leading role in attacking the Vote Vets ad. However, Factcheck updated their critique to acknowledge that vote in question occurred after floor statements and press releases describing the money as intended for protective helmets, vests, and inserts.

Factcheck updated their analysis after criticism from Media Matters. The Tribune may consider the Vote Vets ad’s inaccuracy as “patented,” but readers should view both critiques and decide which one best supports their preexisting beliefs.

But if Factcheck is the arbiter of truth, then the Tribune should note that they also called a Bush-Cheney 2004 ad against John Kerry, attacking him for voting against body armor for troops, similarly false. I don’t recall a Tribune editorial attacking Bush for false campaigning on this exact issue.

The Tribune also called the Democratic amendment an attempt “to score political points.” This presumably was to distinguish it from Republican-organized votes on flag-burning, abortion, and Terry Schiavo.

There’s also one amazing euphemism in the editorial, the assertion that “the Pentagon misjudged the danger from insurgents to troops . . . and so didn’t order enough body armor.” The Pentagon? We’re blaming a building?

Sometimes “the Pentagon” is shorthand for the Department of Defense, but who was running DoD for planning and execution of the Iraq war? Who essentially fired everyone who warned that the war might cost more, require more troops, or take longer than Rumsfeld wanted? Who said we’d be greeted “as liberators”?

Maybe I also would have guessed wrongly about how Iraq would turn out, but I’d be expect to be held accountable for my mistakes. Shouldn’t we hold Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush -- and congressional Republicans, who refuse to engage in any effective oversight -- accountable for their mistakes?

But last Sunday’s editorial also directly contradicts past Tribune pronouncements. In 2004, the Tribune called candidates seeking to keep ads off the air, specifically because of truthfulness, “disingenuous.” No, worse; such efforts were unfair and unconstitutional: “These groups have the same First Amendment rights as the candidates to spend what they want and say what they want, and the candidates’ druthers should have nothing to do with it.”

Even though those 2004 ads were “other than polite, maybe even other than accurate,” the Tribune supported airing them: “That’s the way of a freedom-loving democracy. The thing is, freedom is also preferable to having those who see themselves as your betters control you for the sake of their sense of order.”

But that was then, when inaccurate ads were running against a Democrat. Now that ads may run against a Republican, the Tribune wants to reconsider its freedom-loving rhetoric and replace it with something more, well, pragmatic.

The Tribune now considers itself one of our betters, a self-appointed guardian of discourse recommending what we see and hear. In 2004, such infringement on speech made you “ultimately less protected from the politically powerful” and meant you “have been robbed of a piece of your dignity as a moral agent defining your own life.” In 2006, the Tribune wants to instruct advocates on what kind of ads they should and shouldn’t run.

Why were the less-than-accurate Swift Boat Vet ads a necessary, if messy, part of democracy, but the Vote Vet ads are “dangerously” incorrect and shouldn’t air? If there’s a principle here (other than “It’s O.K. if a Republican does it”), I’d love to hear it.

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