Modern presidential campaigns don't just work the refs. They obsess over the media.
Gov. Sarah Palin can't seem to finish a rally without riffing on her (rare) interactions with the "mainstream media." Since the conventions, the Obama campaign has consistently hammered reporters for how they cover McCain's falsehoods. The styles are different, but the target and goals are the same.
Lately, McCain attack dog Steve Schmidt has been blasting entire news organizations for being "in the tank" for Obama -- the standard Shoot The Messenger ploy.
Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan, on the other hand, has nominated himself as a roving fact checker for thinly sourced GOP attacks. On Monday morning, he released an "Obama-Biden memo" casting the Ayers smear as a fundamental test for how the media covers lies.
The message from Obama to the reporters traveling with him is a reverse George Costanza: "It's not me, it's you."
"Notwithstanding the facts, we fully expect an increasingly frustrated and desperate McCain campaign to continue to lie in attacking Senator Obama," reads the memo to the reporters. "However, the question remains - will McCain and his allies be challenged by the press on their lies or will they be allowed to propagate them with impunity" (emphasis added).
See, it's not about Obama at all, it's about whether the media does their job. The memo ends with "a list of the most common lies the McCain campaign tells about Ayers and the actual facts that prove them false."
Obama's aides are right on this one. There is no "issue" or "question" about Ayers and Obama.
Palin was lying when she said Ayers and Obama palled around. Major investigative reports found nothing here, so when reporters still cover a casual acquaintanceship with lurid overtones of guilt by association, they don't just spread the politics of neo-McCarthyism, they empower it.
Tom Brokaw got in that mud yesterday. Apparently, he could not stomach the farce that Ayers is a substantive issue in the presidential campaign, so he took the "strategic" cop-out, asking whether Obama was making a political error by not "get[ing] at" the topic earlier and describing the Ayers attacks as "below the radar."
I don't know what radar Brokaw is using, but Ayers was a huge issue in the primary. Obama even "got at" it during a nationally televised debate. Slicing through the absurd charge that he is connected to Ayers' checkered past, Obama noted that he was a child during Ayers' criminal period.
By turning this tawdry topic into armchair quarterbacking for the Democratic ticket -- "We know this is bull, but is Obama rebutting it adroitly?" -- Brokaw unintentionally revealed the irresponsible vapidity of such questions.
It's no wonder the Obama campaign is hammering the media this week. You can almost see the Illinois senator parrying one of these questions when Brokaw moderates Tuesday's debate. "It's not me, Tom, it's you."