Is the Truth a defense, or not?
In today’s Journal Sentinel, we see several examples of a familiar trap that those wanting to appear "fair and balanced" regularly fall into. On the front page, the J-S preps its readership for today’s debate in the governor’s race with a review of the "harsh rhetoric" that they say both campaigns have employed.
But how "harsh" is rhetoric that happens to be true? How much more "harsh" is a campaign of lies? In an article like this, the difference is not recognized. Harsh is harsh and the facts are inconvenient and irrelevant. The same plague is cast on both houses, regardless of silly notions of who’s right and who’s wrong.
But there is a difference. When Jim Doyle puts out a press release saying that Mark Green "broke the law and now he's lying to distract voters from the truth", that happens to be true. The State Elections Board and (the J-S always forgets to mention) a judge have both ruled that Green broke the law in his transfer of funds from his federal campaign, a ruling that he has refused to obey by returning the funds and with which he has since played games, pretending to appeal the case he agreed to be dismissed. [Note to J-S: Green lied to you again. He did not try to appeal to the Supreme Court yesterday, as he said he would.]
And Green has been "lying" about Doyle’s record, in his own ads and in a vicious smear campaign by surrogates on talk-radio and in "independent" ads. The latest example is described in another of the increasingly amusing articles on the obituary page of today’s paper. Another in an irregular series of "Ad Watch" articles – none of which so far, by the way, have described or included screen shots of any official Doyle campaign ads – reviews the latest Green ad, in which Green attempts to play the immigration card that the GOP set up for all desperate candidates a month or so ago.
Although the J-S does not conclude as such (and does not call out some "expert" to do it for them), the ad is one big string of lies from beginning to end. The writer claims that "some of the specific claims of the ad don’t hold up, while some do," but, after the article itself points out the outright and fairly obvious falsehoods, it’s clear that none of them do. No conclusions are drawn. The ad has been "watched", and that's about it.
In the "harsh rhetoric" article, though, we are urged to cry for poor Mark Green. "For months," Green whines, "they were on the airwaves bashing us - millions of dollars worth of negative ads - before we even started." Aw, poor baby. It turns out that’s not true, either. The Doyle campaign’s first four ads were all positive ads about his own record. Green was up and running long before Doyle started defining Green with his owns votes in Congress and words coming out of his own mouth.
The Journal Sentinel then lets Green claim that "his campaign has responded with ‘serious,’ issued-based ads," and then allows that lie to fall into space without challenge. Green’s ads have either been silly (with his family claiming he’s not extreme), staged (he used actors instead of real people in one ad) or scurrilous. Green even stole from a Bud Light ad campaign to create a radio ad that features the most blatant, childish name-calling ("Men of Greed", "Mr. Tax-Hiking Man") in state history.
Operating the background is the ugly 24-hour smearing of Doyle on wing-nut talk-radio. There, Green ads are replayed for free and the talkers remark how wonderful they are. The phrase "most corrupt governor in Wisconsin history" is said over and over; the lie that, repeated often enough, becomes accepted as true. This all happens in a cone of silence, where reprehensible shills like Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling are never challenged to answer the question: What are the details that makes you say Doyle corrupt? Like George Mitchell claiming that Doyle is "the most dishonest governor in 50 years" and then refusing to give one example, they smear with impunity and without facts, protected in their studio shell.
Green also benefits by the obviously coordinated "independent" ads, like the ones from out-of-state interlopers All Children Matter, that are even more reckless with the truth.
But, in an article like this and in a newspaper dedicated to putting Green in the best light possible, such distinctions are not made. They both do it, see?
But they don’t both do it. Campaigns should be compared not by perceived tone or by who is being "negative" by pointing out differences – that’s going to happen and should in every campaign – but by who is demonstrably right or wrong on the facts. Where there is such a difference in claim substantiation – where every fact alleged by Green is either an outright lie or, at best, an illegitimate stretch and every Doyle ad is backed up by definitive facts – that is a difference that should be recognized.
Plaguing both houses benefits Green, of course. He can be as reckless with the facts as he wants, safe in the knowledge that the J-S and others will simply say that "they all do it" at this point in a campaign season. The failure to recognize the low road from the high provides Mark Green with parity he does not deserve.