Harsh advertisements and negative attacks are a staple of presidential campaigns, but Senator John McCain has drawn an avalanche of criticism this week from Democrats, independent groups and even some Republicans for regularly stretching the truth in attacking Senator Barack Obamas record and positions.
Mr. Obama has also been accused of distortions, but this week Mr. McCain has found himself under particularly heavy fire for a pair of headline-grabbing attacks. First the McCain campaign twisted Mr. Obamas words to suggest that he had compared Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, to a pig after Mr. Obama said, in questioning Mr. McCains claim to be the change agent in the race, You can put lipstick on a pig; its still a pig. (Mr. McCain once used the same expression to describe Senator Hillary Rodham Clintons health plan.)
Then he falsely claimed that Mr. Obama supported comprehensive sex education for kindergartners (he supported teaching them to be alert for inappropriate advances from adults).
Those attacks followed weeks in which Mr. McCain repeatedly, and incorrectly, asserted that Mr. Obama would raise taxes on the middle class, even though analysts say he would cut taxes on the middle class more than Mr. McCain would, and misrepresented Mr. Obamas positions on energy and health care.
A McCain advertisement called Fact Check was itself found to be less than honest by FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan group. The group complained that the McCain campaign had cited its work debunking various Internet rumors about Ms. Palin and implied in the advertisement that the rumors had originated with Mr. Obama.
In an interview Friday on the NY1 cable news channel, a McCain supporter, Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, called ridiculous the implication that Mr. Obamas lipstick on a pig comment was a reference to Ms. Palin, whom he also defended as coming under unfair attack.
The last month, for sure, said Don Sipple, a Republican advertising strategist, I think the predominance of liberty taken with truth and the facts has been more McCain than Obama.
Indeed, in recent days, Mr. McCain has been increasingly called out by news organizations, editorial boards and independent analysts like FactCheck.org. The group, which does not judge whether one candidate is more misleading than another, has cried foul on Mr. McCain more than twice as often since the start of the political conventions as it has on Mr. Obama.
A McCain spokesman, Brian Rogers, said the campaign had evidence for all its claims. We stand fully by everything thats in our ads, Mr. Rogers said, and everything that weve been saying we provide detailed backup for everything. And if you and the Obama campaign want to disagree, thats your call.
Mr. McCain came into the race promoting himself as a truth teller and has long publicly deplored the kinds of negative tactics that helped sink his candidacy in the Republican primaries in 2000. But his strategy now reflects a calculation advisers made this summer over the strenuous objections of some longtime hands who helped him build his Straight Talk image to shift the campaign more toward disqualifying Mr. Obama in the eyes of voters.
I think the McCain folks realize if they can get this thing down in the mud, drag Obama into the mud, thats where they have the best advantage to win, said Matthew Dowd, who worked with many top McCain campaign advisers when he was President Bushs chief strategist in the 2004 campaign, but who has since had a falling out with the White House. If they stay up at 10,000 feet, they dont.
For all the criticism, the offensive seems to be having an impact. It has been widely credited by strategists in both parties with rejuvenating Mr. McCains campaign and putting Mr. Obama on the defensive since it began early this summer.
Some who have criticized Mr. McCain have accused him of blatant untruths and of failing to correct himself when errors were pointed out.
On Friday on The View, generally friendly territory for politicians, one co-host, Joy Behar, criticized his new advertisements. We know that those two ads are untrue, Ms. Behar said. They are lies. And yet you, at the end of it, say, I approve these messages. Do you really approve them?
Actually they are not lies, Mr. McCain said crisply, and have you seen some of the ads that are running against me?
Mr. Obamas hands have not always been clean in this regard. He was called out earlier for saying, incorrectly, that Mr. McCain supported a hundred-year war in Iraq after Mr. McCain said in January that he would be fine with a hypothetical 100-year American presence in Iraq, as long as Americans were not being injured or killed there.
This is NEWS REPORTING? A consummate hit piece in which a couple of "oh, by the way there is another side to this" paragraphs are buried within it so the Times can claim it presented both sides?
Look, I understand that the Times despises Republicans, wants Democrats to win and intends to convince its readers to feel the same way. But isn't that what you are supposed to do on the editorial page?
Simply stated, when you do it on the news pages, you forgo any claim to being a real newspaper.
New York Times stock has fallen through a trap door in recent years. Does the fact that it regularly publishes ad hominem opinions as fact have anything to do with this?
You tell me.