UW Professor Says McCain Campaign Presents a Crisis for Journalism

Over at the Daily Kos, University of Washington communication professor David Domke issues a bold call to news organizations. Warning that the McCain-Palin campaign represents a "crisis for mainstream journalists," Domke urges news organizations to not back down from vetting the claims and accusations of the GOP message machine.

In drawing parallels to the build up to the decision to go to war in Iraq, Domke writes:

For weeks McCain and surrogates have said things that have been declared false across the political spectrum (even Karl Rove made this point, on Fox News, on Sunday). In just the days since McCain added Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket, the McCain and Palin campaign have said she opposed the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. She didn't, and still has the money. Republicans said Palin opposed Congressional earmarks. Actually, she requested $200 million this year alone. McCain said Obama supported sex education for kindergartners. In reality, Obama voted to make sex-ed teaching age-appropriate, and tightened the standards on it. McCain and Palin said that Palin visited Iraq in an overseas trip. She didn't.

In response, the news media have begun to cover these false claims. The Associated Press, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the TV networks have all produced coverage that lays bare the facts, as best they see it. So far, so good for citizens hoping to be informed.

In response, though, the McCain campaign has made clear that they have no plans to change their claims, or more generally their approach. Campaign spokesman Brian Rogers told Politico.com on Friday, "We recognize it's not going to be 2000 again," when McCain wooed and wowed the press with his "Straight Talk Express" campaign. "But he lost then. We're running a campaign to win. And we're not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it."

In other words, a journalism of verification means zip to the McCain camp. This raises a defining dilemma for journalists: if you lay out the facts and the politician doesn't care or change, what's your next act? Are you prepared to call the politician out in a direct way, ala pundits? Are you prepared to do what the press did not do as a president moved the nation toward a war of choice? Or will U.S. news organizations throw up their hands and pass the buck, saying that they've done all that a journalism of objectivity allows?

Please, don't go there. Not again. The news media have a profound responsibility to state, unequivocally, what is true and what is not--and in a visible fashion. There are many ways to do this, here's just one suggestion: let's have a truth-o-meter on Page 1, every day, in which editorial boards speak with authority.

My view is not a partisan one; it's a democratic one. Whether it's Obama or McCain or whoever else making the claims, Americans need a strong, independent press that holds leaders accountable. I still believe in that kind of journalism. I know my students do. Are today's journalists willing to fight for it?

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