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."