Less Than Candid

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008; 10:43 AM

When is something a gaffe, when is it a misstatement, and when is it an out-and-out lie?

In the end, however the media label it, such decisions are made by the voters.

But we have a pair of interesting case studies right now: John McCain saying that Iran was helping to train al-Qaeda operatives and Hillary Clinton saying she came under sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996 and then, oops, never mind.

Liberal bloggers are all over the media to pump up the McCain story, and conservative and liberal bloggers are denouncing or ridiculing Clinton over the Bosnia tale.

When I first saw the tape of McCain's comment on Iran -- which he corrected a moment later after Joe Lieberman whispered in his ear -- I thought it was a blunder, but not necessarily a consequential one. After all, McCain has made eight visits to Iraq and been involved in foreign policy for 20 years. He's no greenhorn when it comes to this stuff. Brit Hume dismissed it as a "senior moment."

But then I learned that the Arizona senator had made that Iran/Qaeda assertion two or three times before. That's serious business. It means either that McCain really believes the link exists and wants to spread it around -- until he got called on it -- or he is so forgetful that he keeps saying so even though he knows it is untrue.

Hillary's fib on Bosnia, which she tried to pass off as a "blip" of a misstatement, strikes me as inexplicable. I mean, either you came under sniper fire after landing in war-torn territory and ran for your life, or you didn't. Plus, there was video of the first lady's arrival. What possible benefit could she have reaped from describing events that do not appear on the tape? The discrepancy finally became a big story yesterday when Hillary fessed up, days after The Post (four Pinocchios), CBS and other media outlets exposed it. The problem for her is that it's one of those easy-to-remember fictions that exposes her to the ridicule of late-night comics.

We'll start with bloggers on McCain, and the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum:

"MSNBC analyst Chuck Todd tells us why John McCain can get away with routine demonstrations of abject ignorance, like his recent proclamation that Iran is supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq:

" 'Even if he gets dinged on the experience stuff, 'Oh, he says he's Mr. Experience. Doesn't he know the difference between this stuff?' He's got enough of that in the bank, at least with the media, that he can get away with it. I mean, the irony to this is had either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama misspoke like that, it'd have been on a running loop, and it would become a, a big problem for a couple of days for them.'

"Italics mine. Let's recap. Foreign policy cred lets him get away with wild howlers on foreign policy. Fiscal integrity cred lets him get away with outlandishly irresponsible economic plans. Anti-lobbyist cred lets him get away with pandering to lobbyists. Campaign finance reform cred lets him get away with gaming the campaign finance system. Straight talking cred lets him get away with brutally slandering Mitt Romney in the closing days of the Republican primary. Maverick uprightness cred allows him to get away with begging for endorsements from extremist religious leaders like John Hagee. 'Man of conviction' cred allows him to get away with transparent flip-flopping so egregious it would make any other politician a laughingstock. Anti-torture cred allows him to get away with supporting torture as long as only the CIA does it.

"Remind me again: where does all this cred come from? And what window do Democrats go to to get the same treatment the press gives McCain?"

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