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Fake Balance and McCain's Desperate Fear Campaign

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For the better part of a week now, the McCain campaign has been playing the barbecue cable news people like the ribs-eating, tire-swinging sycophants they are. And yet, unlike when a news story is negative about the McCain campaign, they aren't employing their phony-baloney "both sides are wicked awful" fake balance routine this time.

Senator McCain and his cowardly running mate have been accusing Senator Obama of associating with terrorists and consequently inciting violent partisans to blurt out death threats about the Democratic nominee. The most recent being, "Off with his head!" The McCain campaign has become nothing less than a well-financed whisper campaign -- a desperate, dishonorable tabloid operation on the same level as the thoroughly debunked trolls who spread lies via forwarded e-mails -- no better than the hoopleheads in this video.

Why am I so shocked? After all, this is the modern Republican Party. This is the party of Jesse Helms and Alex Castellanos (see White Hands). This is the party of the Southern Strategy. This is the party of Lee Atwater and Willie Horton. This is the party that ignored thousands of people at the Superdome in New Orleans. This is the party of "Harold! Call me!" and the party of Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt who, eight years ago, accused Senator McCain of fathering a black baby out of wedlock. This is the party of Bobby May.

It's the party that's presently banking its fortunes upon the expected racism of low-information rural white voters. Just like always. And yet, for some reason beyond comprehension, the establishment press continues to regard it as a very serious political party.

As we have observed, whenever a cable news channel reports on a gaffe or inaccuracy from either McCain or Palin, the reporter or pundit crowbars into the coverage an Obama or Biden gaffe regardless of whether or not it's an equally heinous trespass. This isn't a new procedure, of course. In 2006, for instance, at the height of the Republican "culture of corruption," whenever there was a Mark Foley story or a Duke Cunningham story or a Scooter Libby story, the press would have to counterbalance those stories with a piece about that one Democratic congressman who had a wad of cash in his mini-bar. Balance.

Yet not every news story has two equal and opposite sides. For instance, Sarah Palin is grossly out of her depth. Her painfully doofish interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric proved this. But "balancing" this story with an item about a random Senator Biden gaffe isn't balance at all, because the Palin issue isn't about careless mistakes. The Palin issue is all about a politician thrust onto the national stage who is clearly inadequate for presidential politics -- it's not about some random misstep in a rope line -- it's entirely about not knowing what the crap she's talking about.

So now the McCain campaign is inciting violence and racial hatred against Senator Obama. And cable news is discussing at great length every wildeyed mention of Hussein and terrorism and "exotic." All of it. On the surface, this McCain tactic is about connecting Senator Obama to William Ayers who, when Senator Obama was eight years old, was a member of a subversive terrorist group. It's a specious connection of mere happenstance and not any sort of ongoing friendship, as is implied by Senator McCain and Sarah Palin. For too many years now, on the national scene, the Ayers thing has been vetted and dissected and exploited and debunked. And that doesn't even include the years in which it was vetted in Illinois.

But none of that matters, right? The Republicans are losing. Their candidates have proved to be ridiculous, spasmodic and inadequate. So the Republicans are wheeling out the fear-mongering and smear attacks. Senator McCain, this week, has literally quoted the actual subject line of the most notorious of the e-mail whisper campaigns: "Who is Barack Obama?" (Here's McCain saying it. Here's the whisper e-mail.)

And, of course, this particular display of fear-mongering is obviously a thinly veiled way to underscore race. It's a way to fire up all of the Hoo-sane hooples who are grasping at anything resembling an excuse for their racially motivated hatred of Senator Obama. It's a way to paint Senator Obama as a black Muslim terrorist. All of the smears that have been repeated by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are now being exploited by the McCain campaign. You know, because he's such an decent, honorable, mavericky guy.

Put another way, this line of attack would carry little weight if Senator Obama was white and his name was Whitey Christian "Mayo" St. Whiteguy. Or, better yet, what if he was a former Navy pilot named McCain, or a hockey mom from Alaska named Palin?

When it comes to this present fear and smear news cycle -- shocker! -- cable news appears to have jettisoned its usual attempt at balance even though Senator McCain and Sarah Palin have their very own crazy associations. Lots of them. But you'd never know it from watching cable news. Maybe it's because there isn't enough time to cover all of the McCain-Palin associations. Or maybe it's a deliberate attempt to shape a more interesting "tight race" narrative. I don't know for sure. But where we usually hear "both sides make funny gaffes," we're certainly not hearing, "Yes, there's this Ayers thing, however Palin and McCain are associated with the following..."

Just in case cable news isn't aware or doesn't have time to cover the McCain-Palin associations, let's do the list, shall we? We'll start with Palin because she's only been at this for, like, five weeks, gosh darn it you betcha, so who knows who the hell Sarah Palin really is.

What about Sarah Palin's association with the Alaskan Independence Party? The group's stated goal is to secede from the United States -- a treasonous offense. Todd Palin was a member of this party, and Sarah Palin attended at least two of their conventions and -- whoops! -- spoke to their convention as recently as this past Summer. The founder of the party, the late Joe Vogler, once condemned the American flag. Where are the questions about whether Palin loves the American flag?

What about Sarah Palin's association with the witch doctor, Pastor Muthee, who blessed Palin at her church and prayed for her "finances"? Does Sarah Palin believe in witches? Does Sarah Palin support witch hunts? Does she know who Cotton Mather was?

What about Sarah Palin's association with indicted Senator Ted "Tubes" Stevens, whose 527 organization was run by Sarah Palin?

Then there's Senator McCain.

What about Senator McCain's association with convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy? This is the guy who, on the public airwaves, instructed his viewers about how to kill a federal agent. This is the guy who boasted that he fired a handgun at a cardboard standee of Senator Hillary Clinton. Yet Senator McCain has appeared on Liddy's radio show numerous times since these statements -- as recently as May, 2008.

What about Senator McCain's relationship with pastor Rod Parsley, who wants to engage in religious warfare?

What about Senator McCain's relationship with anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic pastor John Hagee?

Should I go on?

What about Senator McCain's relationship with his chief campaign advisor Charlie Black who said a terrorist attack would help the campaign?

What about Senator McCain's association with Shelley Shannon who is accused of shooting and wounding an abortion doctor?

What about Senator McCain's association with Charles Keating? What about his association with Freddie Mac lobbyist Rick Davis -- you know, John McCain's campaign manager? What about his association with the U.S. Council for World Freedom, whose board also included a Nazi sympathizer?

Where's the very serious cable news balance here -- especially since the crazy relationship scales are so heavily tilted against the Republican nominees? Scarborough? Anderson? Stretch? Where's the balance?

We all knew it would come down to this, but it doesn't make it any easier to digest, especially with chaos all around us (as I type this, the Dow closed down 678 points). This morning, I turned on MSNBC and for 18 consecutive minutes all I heard were "Hussein" and "terrorist" and "Ayers" and a healthy discussion about how Senator Obama was a radical. Sure, it was in the context of what the McCain campaign is currently implying, but the coverage was so insistent upon figuring out the tactic that it only served to reinforce the plot. To quote Jon Stewart from his legendary CNN appearance four years ago, "You're hurting America." -- Go!

Pre-order my book One Nation Under Fear: Scaredy-cats And Fear-Mongers In The Home of the Brave. With a foreword by Arianna Huffington