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Daily Howler: Toner and Kurtz play it massively dumb, destroying a major experiment
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TONER POEM! Toner and Kurtz play it massively dumb, destroying a major experiment: // link // print // previous // next //

TONER POEM: Why is the “western experiment” dying on the vine? (The attempt to live by Enlightenment values?) Because of people like Robin Toner, who writes a truly astonishing piece on the front page of today’s New York Times.

Toner reports on Rick Santorum’s Pennsylvania Senate race. Santorum still trails by ten points, she says. That said, she describes a remarkable ad Santorum is airing—an attack ad against his opponent, Bob Casey. According to Toner, the ad represents an attempt “to portray Mr. Casey—still undefined to many Pennsylvanians—as an unacceptable choice:”
TONER (9/25/06): One of the most contentious Santorum advertisements opens in a room that is literally smoke-filled, with a group of cigar-smoking men (who are actors) playing cards, and clearly up to no good.

''Meet Bob Casey's campaign team,'' the announcer intones, citing unnamed developers and businessmen who have contributed to Mr. Casey and are now under investigation. Only when the camera pans back is it clear where the men are meeting—behind bars.

The advertisement was described as misleading by, the nonpartisan monitor at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which noted that none of the men cited currently work for Mr. Casey, and that some had contributed, in past campaigns, not only to Mr. Casey, but also to Mr. Santorum.
According to Toner, the ad portrays Casey’s “campaign team” as a gang of cigar-chomping criminals—although none of the people in question are working for Casey, and although some of them have contributed to Santorum’s campaigns in the past.

As described, that’s a truly remarkable ad. It’s clearly news when a sitting senator decides to engage in such acts of deception. But why is the western experiment failing? Because Toner (or her editor) felt the need to continue in this bizarre fashion:
TONER: The Casey campaign is running tough spots of its own. One recent advertisement featured a woman taking Mr. Santorum to task for suggesting, in his book ''It Takes a Family,'' last year, that in some families both parents work because of choice, not necessity. ''He doesn't understand how hard it is in order to make ends meet,'' says the woman, Debbie Balcik, talking directly into the camera, explaining her anger. ''I'm not like a U.S. senator. I can't vote my own pay raise.''

Another focuses on Mr. Santorum's voting record—or, as the announcer puts it, ''a 98 percent voting record with George Bush'' and ''a record that hurts Pennsylvania.”
As described, the Santorum ad is truly remarkable—a balls-out attempt to deceive the public. So what does Toner decide to do? Instantly, she pairs it with two “tough” Casey ads—ads which are perfectly un-remarkable. As described, these Casey ads criticize Santorum—using perfectly accurate facts! You may agree or disagree with the points the ads make. But the facts on which they’re based are accurate. That is a fair statement of Santorum’s voting record. That is what he said in his book.

Why is the western experiment failing? Because of people like Toner (and her editors). Let’s face it—no one in Toner’s position could possibly be so dumb as to think that these ads are in some way “equivalent.” She links them this way as a tribute to power. The bosses are back in control of her pen. The Enlightenment can’t work in this fashion.

THEN THERE’S KURTZ: Then there’s the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, doing exactly the same goldarn thing in this morning’s column. Kurtz writes about the Allen-Webb race. As with Toner, so with Kurtz—plainly, he can’t be this stupid:
KURTZ (9/25/06): The press may well have overplayed the macaca gaffe—there was no comparable frenzy over Webb saying three decades ago that the U.S. Naval Academy was "a horny woman's dream"—but it was a self-inflicted wound that was captured on video and downloaded thousands of times on
Has the press “overplayed the macaca gaffe?” That, of course, is a matter of judgment. (To some extent, we’re inclined to say yes.) But obviously, Kurtz can’t really be this stupid. He can’t really think that Webb’s remark—made “three decades ago”—is equivalent to Allen’s remark—a remark which was made just last month. No one in Kurtz’s position is really that dumb. In this utterly foolish construction, he bows long and low to prevailing power. And he helps us see an important fact—an experiment is dying in the U.S., withering fast on the vine.

TOMORROW: Largely agreeing with Jennifer Senior, who deeply offended the tribe!