Such false equivalence came into play recently in
relation to the presidential campaign. Our local daily paper, along
with most of the nation’s media, managed to mangle reality mightily
with its wire service stories equating Barack Obama’s reference to John
McCain and the Keating Five with Sarah Palin’s charge that Obama “likes
to pal around” with domestic terrorists.
The shortened version of this exchange, as reported in
most of the media, was that the campaign has now gotten nasty. It’s
like coming out of the grocery store and finding that a shopping cart
put a dent in the door of your car. Nobody did it, it just happened.
Most of the media essentially said that McCain-Palin launched an
attack, Obama countered in kind, and the campaign degenerated into name
calling. Penn State had 11 guys on the field, as did the Orange. Which
is all rather silly, and does not serve the public well. We deserve
Twenty years ago, Charles Keating was an anti-pornography
campaigner and banker who went to jail for fraud in the Savings and
Loan scandal of the 1980s, a scandal that ultimately cost taxpayers
billions of dollars. McCain was among five U.S. senators who intervened
actively on his behalf with the U.S. Treasury Department; his Senate
colleagues concluded that McCain showed poor judgment.
McCain, an experienced penitent, called the meetings on
Keating’s behalf the worst mistake of his career. Yet the fact remains
that of the “Keating Five,” Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Dennis DeConcini
(D-Ariz.), John Glenn (D-Ohio) and Donald W. Riegle, McCain was the
closest to Keating, sharing vacations with the banker and enjoying
flights on his private plane while McCain’s wife entered joint
investment ventures with Keating.
Forty years ago Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather
Underground, a tiny group that advocated and carried out violent
attacks as part of a campaign to end the Vietnam War. Ayers, unlike his
wife and some of his comrades, was never convicted of a crime. Obama
has served with him on a couple of boards of nonprofit organizations,
most of them having to do with education. Ayers also hosted a house
party on Obama’s behalf in the early stages of the senator’s career.
Ayers has long since redeemed himself in the eyes of most Chicagoans as
an advocate for public education. Obama has denounced Ayers’
involvement with political bombings, noting that such actions occurred
while he was a child.
The night that Palin and McCain launched their attack on Obama for his association with Ayers, ABC’s Nightline
picked up the story line that most papers and network news features had
been flogging all day. The plot line they advanced? “Now it’s getting
nasty. Both sides are slinging mud.” (Nightline even resorted to
cheesy graphics showing pictures of the two candidates being splattered
with digitally generated mud, accompanied by not-very-convincing sound
But this is not equal opportunity mudslinging. McCain’s
involvement with Keating was serious, sustained and relevant. Obama
hardly knew Ayers. McCain’s instinctive reaction to join a posse
seeking (successfully!) to coax a regulator into going easy on a
fraudulent banker is valuable information for a public about to choose
the man who will guide us through the rest of the credit crisis.
It seems to me that the media need to be less afraid of
being accused of bias by the Republicans and more willing to address
the facts of the issues. The media, in addition to the valuable
fact-checking they provide, could sift through the haze of accusations
on the basis of relevance as well.
In these rollicking times, there are few things we can
say with certainty about the next four years. Yet two things we can
state without fear of contradiction: One, the next president will be
dealing with plenty of banking regulators; and two, the next president
will not be prosecuting the Vietnam War.