One of the media themes this year is that beleaguered Republican candidates will be running as far away from President Bush–and his supposedly “record low poll numbers”–as they can get. And it looks like the media will push that theme no matter what actually happens in Congressional campaigns. We’ve just had a case in point here in Minnesota.
It started when a little-known local blog called “MN Publius” did a post claiming that Republican Senate candidate Mark Kennedy had removed two photos of President Bush from his web site, and replaced them with photos of Mark and some children. The Daily Kos picked up the “story,” as did National Journal in an article titled “Journeys From George”:
Republicans are wrapping up their best month in months, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to embrace an unpopular president. Eighteen weeks before an election that still stirs anxiety within GOP ranks, the question’s not whether they’ll distance themselves from Pres. Bush. It’s how far.
— In MN SEN, Rep. Mark Kennedy has removed several pro-Bush references from his cong. website. MN Publius says he replaced two pics of Bush and him with shots of him and kids (Bush pics do appear on Kennedy’s SEN website). But where he once “supported the president’s plan to create jobs and boost the economy,” he now “successfully worked to repeal the Bush administration’s steel tariffs.
Next, on Tuesday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran with the story:
Blogospheric political pressure spiked Tuesday over online allegations that U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Republican-endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota, had “scrubbed” his congressional website of references to President Bush.
For example, a smiling joint portrait of Kennedy and the president that formerly graced the congressman’s web biography page has been replaced by a photo of Kennedy and some schoolchildren.
And legislation that once was “signed into law by President Bush” now merely “became law” on Kennedy’s website, markkennedy.house.gov, according to the liberal political weblog MN Publius.
What’s odd about the Strib’s story is that the reporter’s investigation disclosed that the Publius story wasn’t true–but the paper reported it anyway. The Strib continues:
But the claims by MN Publius, picked up by national blogs Hotlineblog, Politicalwire and Dailykos, that Kennedy’s site had been “scrubbed” practically clean of the president appear to be exaggerated.
“The fact is, Mark Kennedy’s website includes 72 mentions of the word ‘Bush,’ ” state Republican chairman Ron Carey said in a news release blaming the MN Publius posting on Kennedy’s DFL-endorsed election rival, Amy Klobuchar. “It’s clear the Klobuchar attack machine has once again fallen for the blogosphere’s misinformation, hook, line and sinker.”
Kennedy spokeswoman Anne Mason said that the Bush-Kennedy picture was replaced last February, and that other changes noted by MN Publius occurred more than a year before that. “We update the site as often as possible to be more current,” Mason said.
In other words: no story.
But that didn’t stop Chris Matthews, who repeated the mythical “scrubbing” story on Hardball last night, after it had already been reported to be false:
In Minnesota, the Senate race between Republican Mark Kennedy and Democrat Amy Klobuchar is a tough race. Seven months ago, the president went to Minneapolis to raise money for Kennedy’s campaign. …
Now Kennedy seems to believe President Bush is a vulnerability, because this week Kennedy removed pictures of the unpopular president from his campaign web site.
Moral of that story: don’t believe anything you hear Matthews say on Hardball.
Here are the actual facts, from Mark’s Press Secretary, Heidi Frederickson:
Here are the facts. This whole issue is surrounding the official, not Senate campaign website. In fact, if you visit our Senate website www.MarkKennedy06.com and click on “photos from the road,” the first picture you’ll see in “June” is… Laura Bush. If you scroll down to December you’ll see… The President. The Senate campaign removed 0 photos/references to President Bush this week – or ever.
The changes on the official site also did not happen recently. For example, the picture of Bush was changed in February after “I love to read month”. Upgrades and changes are made daily. By running this story is the MSM saying that websites should not be changed?
Does no one in the mainstream media do a “fact check” or do they just hear a story and run with it? The left is so eager to run against President Bush, and this week the MSM helped them.
From Mark’s Senate campaign site:
Serving in Congress, I feel my number one duty is to protect the American people by making sure we win the War on Terror. President Bush continues to be an unwavering Commander-in-Chief, and I fully support his efforts to win the War on Terror.
Thank goodness we have a President who gets up every day more concerned with protecting America than with daily public opinion polls. It’s not about polls; it’s about doing what’s right.
This is what the mainstream media call “distancing themselves from President Bush.” You’ll be hearing that story line from now until November, whether there is any truth to it or not.
UPDATE: Sid Blumenthal perpetuates, and elaborates on, the initial false report:
While the Senate was consumed debating the flag-burning amendment, Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Republican Senate candidate in Minnesota, was removing every mention and likeness of Bush from his campaign literature and advertising.
That’s never been reported by anyone. Blumenthal just made it up. And Blumenthal isn’t just mendacious; he’s lazy, too. Perhaps he thought it would be too much work to get his hands on Mark’s campaign literature, but it would have taken him around ten seconds to go to Kennedy’s Senate campaign site and see that it is full of references to President Bush, words of support for President Bush, and photos of President Bush, including a number of pictures of Kennedy with the President. Like this one:
Caption: “Kennedy was pleased to have Bush in Minnesota on behalf of his Senate campaign.”
So it would have been easy for Sid to figure out that what he wrote was completely wrong. But I guess we can’t expect highly-paid smear artists like Blumenthal to engage in an activity as mundane as fact checking.
Thanks to reader Jason Register for pointing out the Sid Vicious piece.