Unlike 2004, Mainstream Media -- Even AP -- Hit Back at New"Swiftboat" Book

09/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Four years ago this month, with E&P's Joe Strupp, I explored in a number of articles the belated or conflicted media response to the "swiftboating" of Sen. John Kerry, then the Democratic nominee for president. The mainstream press gave the charges -- carried in ads, in books and articles, and in major TV appearances -- a free ride for a spell, then a respectful airing mixed with critique, before in many cases finally attempting to shoot them down as overwhelmingly exaggerated or false. This delay, along with Kerry's own reluctance to face the matter squarely, quite possibly cost the Democrat the White House.

Now, this month, a bestselling anti-Obama book -- by a co-author of the most prominent "swiftboat" anti-Kerry book in 2004 -- has predictably been published (by Mary Matalin's imprint) and has gained immediate and wide attention in the mainstream. But this time, in many cases, the media response has been a "swift" kick to its credibility.

On Wednesday night, for example, when that author, Jerome Corsi, appeared with Larry King on CNN, he was forced to debate an antagonist, Media Matters' Paul Waldman -- and, for much of the time, King himself. Waldman was even able to air some of Corsi's revolting Web comments in the years before he became famous as a swiftboater.

A Washington Post editorial for Friday's paper calls Corsi an "expert of misrepresentation," and adds, "footnoting to a discredited blog item does not constitute careful scholarship, and the bulk of Mr. Corsi's book has nothing to do with issues. He gets facts wrong... He makes offensive statements." Four years ago, the Post for too long offered a very "balanced" view of the anti-Kerry claims.

Mincing few words, Post columnist Eugene Robinson declares today, " Here come the goons, right on schedule." Corsi, he adds, " has crawled back out from under his rock to spew vicious lies about Barack Obama."

A New York Times blog item on Thursday connected Corsi to the "9/11 Truth" fringe, citing his questions about the official explanation of why the twin towers collapsed. Earlier this week, in a front-page article, the Times charged, "Several of the book's accusations, in fact, are unsubstantiated, misleading or inaccurate."

Among the other Corsi pieces this week one stands out. It appeared Thursday night via The Associated Press, written by one of its top political reporters, Nedra Pickler -- a journalist the liberal blogosphere has frequently criticized. It covered the Obama campaign's release of a 40-page book parsing of Corsi's The Obama Nation but, significantly (in the new "AP style"), Pickler added a huge dose of attitude as well. Adding to the Obama team's argument, Pickler observed on her own:

"The book is a compilation of all the innuendo and false rumors against Obama -- that he was raised a Muslim, attended a radical, black church and secretly has a 'black rage' hidden beneath the surface. In fact, Obama is a Christian who attended Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago."

"Corsi suggests, without a shred of proof, that Obama may be using drugs today. Obama has acknowledged using marijuana and cocaine as a teenager but says he quit when he went to college and hasn't used drugs since."

"He claims Obama received extensive Islamic religious education as a boy in Indonesia, education that was only offered to the truly faithful. Actually, Obama is a Christian and as a boy he attended both Catholic school and Indonesian public schools where some basic study of the Koran was offered."

"He accuses Obama of wanting to weaken the military even though Obama's campaign calls for adding 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines."

"Corsi writes for World Net Daily, a conservative Web site whose lead headline Thursday was "Astonishing photo claims: Dead Bigfoot stored on ice."

"In a series of Web posts several years ago, Corsi said Pope John Paul II was senile and unconcerned about sexual molestation of boys, referred to Islam is "a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion" and suggested Kerry was secretly Jewish."

Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.