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Eric Boehlert Headshot

The Washington Times Slimes Democrats With a Lie

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Wingers online, already high off their I-told-you-so buzz permeating from the killing of Abu Musab Zarqawi (a pro-war buzz we haven't sensed since Saddam was captured, his sons were killed, or his statute was toppled -- take your pick) were cackling over a Washington Times article posted late Thursday afternoon.

Headline: "Democrats call Zarqawi killing a stunt."

First sentence: "Some Democrats, breaking ranks from their leadership, today said the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq was a stunt to divert attention from an unpopular and hopeless war."

Matt Drudge immediately posted the article up high on his site, while Power Line, Michelle Malkin and legions from the 101st Fighting Keyboarders touted the piece as proof Democrats can't even back Bush, let alone the U.S. military, when a ruthless terrorist is finally knocked out. That's how crazy conspiratorial Democrats are, they think the killing of Zarqawi was a stunt.

Slight problem. The Washington Times completely manufactured the story. Meaning the Washington Times article does not quote a single Democrat who thinks the Zarqawi killing was a "stunt." The article, as far as I can tell, was a pure Democratic hit piece from the right-wing daily owned by the Rev. Sung Myung Moon, who fancies himself to be the son of God. I realize it's not exactly news when the Washington Times adopts unique journalism guidelines, but this instance really did seem to break new ground for the money-losing newspaper since the piece appeared at first glance, based on the whiplash speed with which it made the rounds online, to have been part of an orchestrated campaign to damage Congressional Democrats.

Don't believe me that the Times made up the "stunt" story? Go read it. The article as posted online quotes exactly five Democrats in the story. Three of them, Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Kent Conrad, and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, all label the killing "good news." The other two Democrats quoted are well-known war critics, Rep. Pete Stark and Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Neither one of them though, suggested the killing was a stunt.

Kucinich was quoting as saying Zarqawi was a small part of "a growing anti-American insurgency" and that it's time to get out. He added, "We're there for all the wrong reasons," something Kucinich has been saying publicly for going on 40 months. Meanwhile, Stark was quoted as saying Iraq is still a mess and that the United States still needs to get out. Again, nothing new from Stark.

Here's the single convoluted sentence that the Times seems to build its entire article around:

""This is just to cover Bush's [rear] so he doesn't have to answer" for Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military and his own sagging poll numbers, said Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat."

Note more than half that sentence is not a direct quote from Stark, rather it's the Times telling readers that Stark was supposedly making a connection between Zarqawi and Iraqi civilians. Readers also have to take the Times at its word that the "This" mentioned by Stark is in reference to the Zarqawi killing. But even if you're inclined to believe the newspaper on both points, where's the stunt quote that's the basis of the headline and the lede? Stark's "cover Bush's [rear]" quote in no way suggests he thinks the killing was a stunt, some sort of orchestrated event designed solely to divert attention. And where are the Democrats plural who think the killing was a stunt. The Times' headline and opening sentence clearly report that "Democrats" think the killing was a stunt, and it's the stunt angle that made the story so hot. Yet the best the Times can do is print a cut-up quote from a single Democrat who doesn't even say the killing was a stunt? Pathetic.

UPDATE: The Times cleaned up the story for Friday's print version, getting rid of the "stunt" angle. But no matter. It's sure to rattle around the Republican noise machine as a 'fact' for days to come.