What do you do if you're an ostensibly "objective" publication, and you really don't like something a politician has done? Well, you can't come out and criticize him, because then you wouldn't be "objective" anymore. So you write a story like this one, from Politico:
Rep. Alan Grayson's 'Taliban' Ad Backfires
Rep. Alan Grayson's attempt to equate his Republican challenger with the Taliban is having a big impact — just not the one Grayson may have hoped.
In an ad, Grayson's campaign calls Republican Daniel Webster a "religious fanatic" — a charge it supports with video in which Webster seems to encourage wives to "submit" to their husbands.
But FactCheck.org says the narrative crafted by the Florida Democrat's campaign distorts what Webster was actually saying.
Has the ad really "backfired"? Color me skeptical that all that many voters in the district read the FactCheck.org piece. The article goes on to say that the ad was also criticized in an editorial by the Orlando Sentinel. That's not good for Grayson's campaign, but is it worse than the fact that everyone is talking about just how radical Daniel Webster is? Does it overwhelm whatever mileage he's getting out of the ad itself? The article ends this way: "The ad has created an opening for Webster's campaign, which significantly trails Grayson's in fundraising." Just what does that mean -- "created an opening"? Does it mean that Webster has been able to use this kerfuffle to raise more money? That he has moved closer to Grayson in polls? We don't know, because they don't tell us.
You might say, "Who cares about all that?" The answer is that Politico does, because the who's-up-who's-down of politics is the only currency they deal in.
Grayson's ad is unusual, like much of what the congressman does, mostly because it's the kind of bare-knuckle, unapologetically aggressive thing we are used to seeing from Republicans but not from Democrats. And it does seem that he tends to get tut-tutted from places like Politico for precisely that reason, while lots of similar stuff from Republicans gets ignored. I'm not going to defend everything Grayson has ever said, but the problem with the Politico piece is that it's a moral condemnation packaged as a strategic condemnation. Politico has decided it can't say, "We think this was out of line," but it can say, "This strategy has failed." Problem is, they don't really have any evidence that it has.
-- Paul Waldman
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