Is the McCain Camp Spreading Smears in the Name of Fighting Them?

By Lee Speigel

Sep 3, 2008 6:17pm

Did you read the National Enquirer this week?

I didn’t.

Why am I bringing it up?

Because I just got an e-mail about it from the McCain-Palin campaign.

“The smearing of the Palin family must end," said McCain-Palin campaign manager Steve Schmidt in the statement. "The allegations contained on the cover of the National Enquirer, insinuating that Gov. Palin" (something untrue) "are categorically false. It is a vicious lie. Gov. Palin is the most popular governor in the country. She is a proven leader, an accomplished executive, a champion for ethics reform, and a fighter against corruption. The efforts of the media and tabloids to destroy this fine and accomplished public servant are a disgrace. The American people will reject it. … Legal action will be considered with regard to this disgraceful smear.”

I didn’t even know such a story existed.

Any campaign faced with false allegations has to decide whether responding to them is giving them more voice and notice — certainly the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., faced that problem for months and months with the Manchurian Muslim candidate stuff.

But this e-mail comes in the context of an aggressive pushback after only a matter of days in which the chief talking point the McCain campaign seems to have about Gov. Sarah Palin is that she’s being smeared by Democrats, the Obama campaign, and the media.

Lumped into this description of smearing are any questions about her experience, her time as mayor or governor in Alaska, her relationship to the Alaskan Independence Party — which her husband Todd was a member of, and any other issues in which you might be interested.

Obviously, they want to rally voters behind her. But are they doing Palin a service?

"Members of this campaign went to off-the-record lunches with reporters today," Schmidt told Katie Couric, Tuesday, according to Politico, "and they were asked if she would do paternity tests to prove paternity for her last child. Smear after smear after smear, and it’s disgraceful and it’s wrong. And the American people are going to reject it overwhelmingly when they see her."

First, that’s an intriguing definition of off-the-record, but second, what a reporter asks is not the same thing as what a reporter reports. It could be argued that Schmidt, raising the notion of paternity on national TV, did far more to spread that unpleasantness to millions of voters than anything anyone in the mainstream media did.

Some of the tactics the McCain campaign is using could certainly be seen as spreading rumors in the name of fighting them.

- jpt

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