Candidates are not the only major factors in this year's elections. The media have taken a big role -- and a biased role.
The latest in a long list of examples is the way they have immediately circled the wagons around John Kerry to protect him and the Democrats from the reaction to an ill-advised remark that the Senator made at a college in California.
What was the remark? "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
That's what the man said. It's on tape so there is no basis for dispute about that. What there is a dispute about is what it meant.
One plain meaning is that, if you don't get a good education, you could end up getting sent to Iraq. This would be consistent with a disdain for the military apparent not only in Senator Kerry's voting record but also that of many other Democrats in Congress. So the Republicans grabbed that ball and ran with it.
Senator Kerry now claims that it was a "botched joke," meaning that President Bush didn't get a good education and that he has gotten the country stuck in Iraq. Even if we bend over backward to believe that Kerry didn't really mean what he said, but had simply messed up the punch line, his follow-up statement later on only made matters worse.
He said he would "apologize to no one" that if anyone would believe that "a veteran, someone like me," would "somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq" then "they're crazy."
Maybe Senator Kerry has a bad memory -- or maybe he is counting on the rest of us having a bad memory. He criticized more than 140,000 troops serving in Vietnam, making sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations against them of widespread atrocities back in the 1970s.
He criticized them at home and abroad, giving aid and comfort to our enemies in wartime. That is what first got the Swift Boat veterans after him, years before he ran for President in 2004.
Regardless of whether we believe Kerry's account of his service in Vietnam or the very different accounts by many who served in the same unit with him there, military service does not confer lifetime immunity from criticism for what you do afterwards.
Benedict Arnold was a military hero during the Revolutionary War. But General Arnold changed his mind on that war, just as Senator Kerry has changed his mind on the war in Iraq -- and no one has claimed that Benedict Arnold's earlier military service made him exempt from criticism.
How is this story played in the media? The front-page headline on the San Francisco Chronicle read: "Bush, GOP seize on Kerry's Gibe to Turn Focus from War in Iraq." The Chronicle has learned well the New York Times' technique of imputing motives instead of reporting facts.
Has any Democrat ever been accused by the mainstream media of "seizing on" some statement by a Republican, much less have bad motives imputed?
This is not the first time the media have circled the wagons around Senator Kerry. Despite the fact that Kerry has shamelessly tried to exploit his military service in Vietnam decades later, Tim Russert is the only major media commentator who has ever asked him why he will not open his military records, as President Bush has done.
Kerry has said that he would, that he has, and yet to this day he has never signed the simple form that Bush signed to make the facts available to all.
What makes this all the more important in the case of Senator Kerry is that he has not only made his military service a claim to national leadership but has put his honorable discharge on his web site -- where its date, years after he left the military, raised serious question about his credibility.
The date of his honorable discharge was during the Carter Administration, when less than honorable discharges were allowed to be upgraded. But why would a military hero need that?
Except for Tim Russert, the mainstream media show no such interest in that question as they did when they relied on a forged memo to trash George W. Bush's military service. Biased? You bet.