When it comes to opposition research, there is often only one difference between a candidate's vicious negative ad and an "investigative" news report: the undeserved patina of media "objectivity" and respectability.
Take the Washington Post's Jason Horowitz's 5,400-word "expose" on how Mitt Romney may have pinned a boy down and cut his hair in 1965. 1965? That's almost a half century ago. Even if every detail were accurate -- and they weren't -- a journalist could pull a muscle in the hyper-aggressive attempt to make it somehow relevant to the present moment or even the recent past.
The family of the alleged Romney victim, John Lauber, who died of cancer in 2004, issued a statement saying, "the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda." One sister said, "If he were still alive today, he would be furious" about the story. None of this slowed down the Post one bit and didn't stop everyone else from repeating the story.
So how hard was it to learn the allegation was false? Wasn't this the story? Who was spreading the falsehood?
This is the same "investigative" crew that expended 3,000 words last October explaining that a rock at a Rick Perry rental property had the N-word painted on it. Never mind this was about 25 years ago; never mind you couldn't see it because it was covered in white paint; and never mind that the painting over the N-word was done by Perry's family. The reader was supposed to know that it was somehow very relevant to the presidential campaign.
The Romney prep-school "prank" scandal is reminiscent of an old 1996 report on Pat Buchanan on ABC's "Nightline." Then anchor Ted Koppel not only suggested Buchanan's father was a regular listener to the anti-Semitic radio show of Father Coughlin (he later apologized when the family denied this), he even stooped to accusing Buchanan's little brothers of having beaten up Jewish kids in the neighborhood in the 1950s.
Koppel tried to put these spurious allegations "in context" for the viewer: "It's not that Pat Buchanan today is associated with overtly anti-Semitic or racist acts or statements, but rather that he has created an image of someone who might be sympathetic to such acts or statements by others."
Who, precisely, was "creating the image" of prejudice and mean-spiritedness? Why do journalists never take responsibility for their mudslinging? They just pretend someone else did it. In the same way, the Post and other reporters are creating a negative image of Romney as "a rich kid with a mean streak" who has apparently never matured.
The Post defends itself by calling its reporting "solid," and that they found Romney classmates who would tell this tale. Yet they somehow are more credible than the very family of the alleged victim. This is not just about inaccuracy, but it's about irrelevance. Somehow the "character" of Republican contenders is always a question mark that requires sleuthing of their teenage years for signs of disturbing misbehavior.
The Post knows full well that they never did this kind of investigation for Barack Obama in 2008. Take Obama's admissions of teenaged marijuana and cocaine use in his memoirs. Did the Post send a reporter to find out from Obama's classmates how often he used illegal drugs and where he purchased them?
No. The Post tried to assert these troublesome admissions wouldn't matter in a story published a month before he announced he was running and never returned to investigate. Reporter Lois Romano declared, "Obama's partisan opponents and experts said it is too early to know whether the admissions will be a liability because the public seems to be enthusiastically embracing his openness at this point."
Do you think if Romney openly professed having bullied kids in high school that the media would report the public seems to be "enthusiastically embracing his openness"?
Obama wasn't the only candidate the Post utterly failed to vet in 2008. Did the Post offer 5,000 words on John Edwards cheating on his dying wife -- in real time, as an adult presidential candidate? Then Post reporter Howard Kurtz admitted, "The whispered allegations about John Edwards were an open secret that was debated in every newsroom and reported by almost none."
It's bias like this that causes people to cancel their newspaper subscriptions. Sadly, these Posties are so delusional as to believe that their fallen-away subscribers prefer hackneyed bloggers and talk-radio hosts over this elitist garbage.
They can't see that what they're publishing here in this Romney-prank story is clouded, unconfirmed ancient history -- maybe even mythology -- that none of them would ever "report" on the worst of the Democrats. No one believes this newspaper's claims of objectivity and fairness. No one should.