WaPo Defends Spreading Lies About Obama

Peter Baker of the Washington Post blogs in defense of WaPo’s spreading lies about Obama:

Two furors stoked by the blogosphere over the last 24 hours neatly illustrate the changing political climate in the United States these days and underscore the depths of suspicion, anger and hostility out there as the country tries to pick a new leader. . . . [L]iberal bloggers ripped The Washington Post for publishing a story on untrue rumors that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is secretly a Muslim.

. . . [A]ny legitimate criticism and sober-minded discussion of the issues raised get drowned out by the loudest, most vituperative voices. The net result is not dialogue, but a contest of outrage.

That, my friends, is a textbook red herring. And, last I looked, CJR was not a vituperative liberal blogger and the CJR writer stated that “In The Washington Post this morning, reporter Perry Bacon Jr. wrote what may be the single worst campaign ’08 piece to appear in any American newspaper so far this election cycle.” And indeed, Baker has little substantively to say in defense of the WaPo story. This seems his best shot:

The reporter wrote the story because a voter in Iowa told him that Obama is a Muslim and he was struck that people remain so ill informed. . . . But somehow a story intended to debunk the false claims, trace their origin and explore the challenge they present the campaign in trying to quash them spawned a furious eruption among liberal bloggers accusing the Post of spreading the rumors.

This is disingenuous to say the least. I feel confident that the Obama campaign wasnot pleased with the story. Does Mr.  Baker wonder why? Perhaps Lyndon Johnson can explain it:

[O]ne of Johnson’s favorite jokes is about a popular Texas sheriff running for reelection whose opponents decide to spread a rumor that he f[***]ks pigs: “We know he doesn’t, but let’s make the son of a bitch deny it.”

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  1. Imagine the furor if somebody was thought to be “secretly” atheist. It is a typical dirty trick routine, divert away from a discussion of issues with unfounded speculation. Might be a weird compliment to Barack Obama, if he is being smeared, it means he is considered a “threat” to somebody other Democrats or Repubs…

  2. pretty weak.  The appeal to what Baker “meant” by the article is a non-sequitur, isn’t it?

    The presumption of ill will extends across the ideological spectrum. The Post ran a story on the front page this week on the whispers about Obama’s supposed Muslim faith even though he is a Christian. The reporter wrote the story because a voter in Iowa told him that Obama is a Muslim and he was struck that people remain so ill informed. That sort of misinformation has been common out there and, as the story showed, spread by some people in an attempt to taint Obama. But somehow a story intended to debunk the false claims, trace their origin and explore the challenge they present the campaign in trying to quash them spawned a furious eruption among liberal bloggers accusing the Post of spreading the rumors.

    Any reasonable reading of the story makes clear they are not true. Right there in the second paragraph, it says Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ in Chicago. In other words, a Christian, not a Muslim.  [absurd] And yet the bloggers seem to think readers are so stupid they will actually think the Post is saying the opposite. The story’s obvious intent is to clarify, which it did. If people are misinformed about a key aspect of a major presidential candidate to his detriment, then journalism performs a service by addressing misinformation. And if foes are using unfounded rumors to damage a candidate, especially in a subterranean way, then journalism should expose that. [now here’s the kicker] Critics can reasonably debate this or that wording in the story, but certainly the intent is clear no matter how much it is distorted on the Web.

    What this week shows is that intent is in the eye of the beholder. And the campaign developing over the next 11 months will be filled with more anger, accusation and antipathy.

    We’re supposed to be giving charitable readings of a reporter’s intent?  No doubt Baker is a nice person.  He and the editors produced a really bad article.

    So, for example, let’s change a few words from the bit I just quoted, and ask what is worse: the implicit anti- muslim tone or the thickheadedness of the defense?

    The presumption of ill will extends across the ideological spectrum. The Post ran a story on the front page this week on the whispers about Giuliani’s supposed Mafia connections even though he is a supporter of law enforcement. The reporter wrote the story because a voter in Iowa told him that Giuliani is a Mafia Don and he was struck that people remain so ill informed. That sort of misinformation has been common out there and, as the story showed, spread by some people in an attempt to taint Giuliani. But somehow a story intended to debunk the false claims, trace their origin and explore the challenge they present the campaign in trying to quash them spawned a furious eruption among conservative bloggers accusing the Post of spreading the rumors.

    Any reasonable reading of the story makes clear they are not true. Right there in the second paragraph, it says Giuliani is a supporter of law enforcement in New York. In other words, a law abiding citizen, not a Mafia Don. [absurd] And yet the bloggers seem to think readers are so stupid they will actually think the Post is saying the opposite. The story’s obvious intent is to clarify, which it did. If people are misinformed about a key aspect of a major presidential candidate to his detriment, then journalism performs a service by addressing misinformation. And if foes are using unfounded rumors to damage a candidate, especially in a subterranean way, then journalism should expose that. Critics can reasonably debate this or that wording in the story, but certainly the intent is clear no matter how much it is distorted on the Web.

    What this week shows is that intent is in the eye of the beholder. And the campaign developing over the next 11 months will be filled with more anger, accusation and antipathy.

    • TheRef on December 1, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    your outing of Baker. Apparently, he is in the duel roll of Columnist and PR Director for the Post. Consequently, his motives are suspect.

    Had I the ability, I would recommend your offering. OTB is working on the problem.

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