The Obama campaign has pretty much figured out that the current media landscape is going to give credence to the same set of prevaricators and liars that they allowed to shape the election in 2004. There's no internal debate over whether or not to give something like Jerome Corsi's book oxygen - it's the media world we live in that he will appear all over cable news (not just the right-wing outlets) and in everyone's newspapers. The reason given by the media is always that "it's a best-seller," but that's a system the conservative movement has been gaming for years, and frequently after the boom cycle of early publicity to get their wingnuts onto the teevee the books get remaindered and available for purchase for a penny.
So instead of hoping that these smears go away, the campaign and its allies are fighting back. Chief among them is Media Matters, and Paul Waldman was brilliant with Corsi on Larry King's show last night.
They've also unearthed Corsi's latest media appearance, on a pro-white radio show. I'm guessing that wasn't a hard booking for him to nail down.
In an appearance on the August 13 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, after Media Matters for America Senior Fellow Paul Waldman noted that Jerome Corsi, author of The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, had "put up on right-wing Web sites a whole series of bigoted and hateful posts," Corsi replied that "you haven't mentioned all my apologies for those statements." But notwithstanding Corsi's apologies for his comments, Corsi is reportedly scheduled to appear with host James Edwards on the August 17 edition of The Political Cesspool Radio Show, which, according to its "Statement of Principles," "represent[s] a philosophy that is pro-White" and which "heartily endorse[s] and accept[s] as our own, the founding tenets of the Council of Conservative Citizens [CCC]." According to a Fall 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, " 'The Political Cesspool' in the past two years has become the primary radio nexus of hate in America." Corsi previously appeared on the July 20 edition of the show, in which he promoted The Obama Nation and criticized Sen. Barack Obama.
There's also a concerted pushback inside the campaign as well, consisting of mau-mauing the media in the same way that conservatives ensure their message is heard.
Obama advisers say that whenever they hear that Corsi has been booked for an appearance on a network program, they are quickly contacting the program's producers to rebut the book's charges in phone conversations and giving them a whole run-down of past Corsi quotes that are controversial.
Obama aides also vow to insist that the producers allow them to have on a campaign surrogate to attack the charges, and are expecting to recruit more campaign surrogates, well plied with talking points, to push back against the book.
They've put out a 40-page document outlining all the falsehoods in the book. And they're using a viral email strategy to push the facts along.
There's no question that Obama's team is better prepared for this than John Kerry's was, but of course that's a low bar. What's notable is how a few of the media fish aren't totally biting at this one. They're giving Corsi publicity, sure, but they are feeling the pressure to present the other side. And Joe Klein, who has been eating his Wheaties lately, is making his disgust known and connecting it directly to the McCain campaign.
I know that people like me are supposed to try to be fair...and balanced. (The Fox mockery of our sappy professional standards seems more brutally appropriate with each passing year.) In the past, I would achieve a semblance--or an illusion--of balance by criticizing Democrats for not responding effectively when right-wing sludge merchants poisoned our national elections with their filth and lies. And it is true, as John Kerry knows, that a more effective response--and a bolder campaign--might have neutralized the Swiftboat assault four years ago. It is also true that Corsi's book this time is far less effective than his Swiftboat venture, since it doesn't come equipped with veterans willing to defile their service by telling lies to camera.
But there is no excuse for what the McCain campaign is doing on the "putting America first" front. There is no way to balance it, or explain it other than as evidence of a severe character defect on the part of the candidate who allows it to be used. There is a straight up argument to be had in this election: Mcain has a vastly different view from Obama about foreign policy, taxation, health care, government action...you name it. He has lots of experience; it is always shocking to remember that this time four years ago, Barack Obama was still in the Illinois State Legislature. Apparently, though, McCain isn't confident that conservative policies and personal experience can win, given the ruinous state of the nation after eight years of Bush. So he has made a fateful decision: he has personally impugned Obama's patriotism and allows his surrogates to continue to do that. By doing so, he has allied himself with those who smeared him, his wife, his daughter Bridget, in 2000. Those tactics won George Bush a primary--and a nomination. But they proved a form of slow-acting spiritual poison, rotting the core of the Bush presidency. We'll see if the public decides to acquiesce in sleaze in 2008, and what sort of presidency--what sort of country--that will produce.
It still has a hint of that Village aroma, but the words "character defect" are pretty strong.
We'll see how this progresses, and if the coverage changes when the inevitable TV campaign gets matched to the book, but for now, it's actually important that we all keep on top of this. The right is extremely good at character assassination, and the only way to counteract it is to punch right back and expose them.