Jamison Foser pretty much nails it here. The most important point to take away here is that the McCain campaign has been tremendously dishonest in recent weeks, they have been called out on their dishonesty, and the news networks have allowed these false and childish narratives to completely dominate their news coverage. First, there is the dishonesty:
Over the past few weeks, and especially the past week, numerous news organizations and other neutral observers have debunked a series of false claims made by John McCain and his campaign. FactCheck.org, for example, has called one McCain attack ad "false," said another contains a "false" insinuation, described another as misleading, called another "ridiculous" and added, "That's absurd, and McCain knows it." FactCheck said the attacks in yet another McCain ad are "oversimplified to the point of being seriously misleading," noting that by the standards of evidence the McCain campaign used in the ad, the Arizona senator himself could be criticized precisely the same way. FactCheck called criticisms McCain has leveled against Obama's tax plans "bunk," adding, "He's wrong," and stating that McCain is using a "false and preposterously inflated figure" to attack Obama. They called another McCain attack "simply wrong" and "not true." They said yet another McCain ad "gets nearly all its facts wrong. ... [E]very number in the ad is wrong, except one. ... And even that number is rounded upward so generously as to flunk third-grade arithmetic." And FactCheck called yet another McCain attack trickery" based on an "inflated and misleading" number that was the result of "Double, Triple and Quadruple Counting."
And that's just in the past month.
The Washington Post has reported that "McCain and his allies" are accusing Obama of "snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true" and noted that the evidence the McCain campaign provided to back up the claim did not do so. The New York Times reported that McCain's recent offensive against Obama has been based on claims that have been "widely dismissed as misleading," which is actually an understatement -- they've been widely dismissed as false. A St. Petersburg Times editorial denounced McCain's "nasty turn into the gutter," adding that he "has resorted to lies and distortions in what sounds like an increasingly desperate attempt to slow down Sen. Barack Obama. ... [T]hese baseless attacks are raising more questions about the Republican's campaign and his ability to control his temper." The New York Times editorial board called another McCain attack "contemptible" and "ugly." On MSNBC, Time magazine Washington bureau chief Jay Carney called a McCain ad "reprehensible." MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that a McCain ad is "completely wrong, factually wrong" and that it "literally is not true." The Cleveland Plain Dealer rated a McCain campaign ad a "zero" on its 0-to-10 scale of truthfulness.
All that -- and much, much more -- has come in just the past week.
This should really be a huge deal. The news networks should do their job and act as watchdogs, keeping politicians honest. Instead, they turn around and repeat McCain's narratives ad nauseum.
This point isn't lost on Jamison Foser:
All week, McCain's attacks have been driving news coverage. Those same news organizations that have declared McCain's charges false have given them an extraordinary amount of attention, repeating them over and over. They have adopted the premises of the McCain attacks even as they acknowledge the attacks are based on false claims. The media narrative of the week has not been, as you ight expect, that John McCain's apparent dishonesty may hurt him with voters. Instead, the media's basic approach has been to debunk McCain's attacks once, then run a dozen stories about how the attacks are sticking, how the "emerging narrative" will hurt Obama.
But attacks don't just stick and narratives don't just emerge. The only reason that the topic of the week was whether Obama is presumptuous instead of whether McCain is a liar who will do anything to get elected is that the news media decided to make Obama's purported flaws the topic of the week -- even after debunking the charges upon which the characterization is based. It's as though the news media -- so concerned about lies (that weren't really lies) in 2000 -- have suddenly decided that it doesn't matter that the McCain campaign is launching false attack after false attack. That it's the kind of thing you note once, then adopt the premise of the attack.
UPDATE: Jon Stewart gets it, too (starting at around 2:30).