Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Swift Boat, the sequel (in two parts)

Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water … the conservative shipsmiths and toolmakers who launched the Swift boat that helped torpedo John Kerry’s chances for the presidency are about to smash bottles of Champagne against the bows of two new Swift boats. Target: Barack Obama.

Media Matters reports today that two books will be released on Friday and on Aug. 4. One, “The Obama Nation,” was written by Jerome Corsi, co-author of “Unfit for Command,” the hit job on Kerry’s military record. The other, “The Case Against Barack Obama,” was written by David Freddoso, a writer for National Review Online. The Politico reported in June that Freddoso learned reporting “at the knee” of syndicated conservative columnist Robert Novak, and worked for Novak as a political reporter on the “Evans-Novak Political Report.”

The books lay claim to taking a hard, sober look at Obama as a candidate. Another examination of Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is expected, as well as a look at Obama as the beneficiary of a “cult of personality” (no doubt with all deliberate suggestion of Benito Mussolini). Regnery Publishing president and publisher Marjory Ross told The Politico on June 23 that Freddoso’s book will offer “a comprehensive, factual look at Obama.” But for Media Matters, this forthcoming assault from a writer and publishers with a history of archly conservative views and dubious journalistic principles means one thing: It’s gut-check time for the mainstream press.

From Media Matters:

“The overt connections between the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's scurrilous campaign against Kerry and the two forthcoming books raise the question for the media: Will they have absorbed the lessons of their highly flawed Swift Boat coverage and give more immediate and more thorough scrutiny to these forthcoming books??”

Media Matters refers, of course, to the curiously slow pivot made in the 2004 campaign by the mainstream press in response to the relentless impugning of Kerry’s military record, his personal character and his fitness for command. Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen again.

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There’s every reason to believe it shouldn’t happen again. Regnery, which will publish the Freddoso book, has a long history of publishing books with an ardently conservative line — from publishing “God and Man at Yale,” William F. Buckley’s first book, and a biography of John Birch in the 1950’s, to releasing two books on Bill Clinton, one of which linked him without proof to a series of tragedies during his presidency. Then came the Kerry character assassination.

Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, will produce Corsi’s book. The company’s books are loudly promoted on the Web site of conservative analyst and former Bush deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin, and Threshold published “An Inconvenient Book” by Glenn Beck, CNN’s conservative talk-show host.

With warnings like that, the mainstream press can’t say it hasn’t been warned, can’t say it was caught off guard by what’s likely to be rhetorical mudslinging of a low order.

◊ ◊ ◊

What can’t be overlooked is something these books and their next-to-last-minute appearance announces: the ferocity of attacks on Obama only reveals how little there’s been to bolster the political fortunes of Sen. John McCain. With the erosion of McCain’s campaign planking of national security matters and conduct of the Iraq war, and his relative absence on matters tied to the economy, there’s little else to do except tear down McCain’s opponent.

The Swift boat strategy bears the smell of desperation, of a last chance at extracting by deception a victory it hasn’t earned in the public square, or the public mind. The mainstream press can, just maybe, slow the tidal decline of regard in that public mind by evaluating the truthfulness of these books quickly — and being as relentless in exposing their flaws and questioning their shortcomings as their authors and publishers will be in promoting the books that bear them.

The Swift boat technique is known for attacks on candidates. It’d be a shame if this time, the press’ reputation suffered the collateral damage.
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Image credit: Obama: Frogster, republished under GNU Free Documentation License. Unfit for Command cover: ©2004 Regnery Publishing.

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