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The Anger Factor

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008; 10:09 AM

The media are getting mad.

Whether it's the latest back-and-forth over attack ads, the silly lipstick flap or the continuing debate over Sarah and sexism, you can just feel the tension level rising several notches.

Maybe it's a sense that this is crunch time, that the election is on the line, that the press is being manipulated (not that there's anything new about that).

News outlets are increasingly challenging false or questionable claims by the McCain campaign, whether it's the ad accusing Obama of supporting sex-ed for kindergartners (the Illinois legislation clearly describes "age-appropriate" programs) or Palin's repeated boast that she stopped the Bridge to Nowhere (after she had supported it, and after Congress had effectively killed the specific earmark).

The McCain camp has already accused the MSM of trying to "destroy" the governor of Alaska. So any challenge to her record or her veracity can now be cast as the product of an oh-so-unfair press. Which, needless to say, doesn't exactly please reporters, and makes the whole hanging-with-McCain-on-the-Straight-Talk era seem 100 years ago.

As for the sudden insistence that Palin is a delicate flower who must be shielded from harsh rhetoric, take this example. Joe Biden, asked if Palin as VP would be a step forward for women, said: "Look, I think the issue is: What does Sarah Palin think? What does she believe? I assume she thinks and agrees with the same policies that George Bush and John McCain think. And that's obviously a backward step for women."

A typical political shot? Not according to the RNC, which said the "arrogant" remarks are "better suited for the backrooms of his old boys' club," while Palin is trying to break "the highest glass ceiling."

Of course, she wasn't picked because she is a woman, was she? And I'm sure if Hillary was the nominee, the RNC would be extremely respectful of her attempt to shatter an even higher glass ceiling.

The lipstick imbroglio is evidence that the Drudge/Fox/New York Post axis can drive just about any story into mainstream land. Does anyone seriously believe that Barack Obama was calling Sarah Palin a pig? What about the fact that McCain has used "lipstick on a pig" before? What about the book by that title by former McCain aide Torie Clarke? Never mind: get the cable bookers to line up women on opposite sides of the lipstick divide and let them claw at each other!

Obama, punching back about "phony outrage," knows where to point the finger:

"What their campaign has done this morning is the same game that has made people sick and tired of politics in this country. They seize on an innocent remark, try to take it out of context, throw out an outrageous ad because they know it's catnip for the news media. . . . See, it would be funny, it would be funny except, of course, the news media decided that was the lead story yesterday."

"Remember when Senators John McCain and Barack Obama promised a kinder, gentler presidential race?" asks the Boston Globe. "They said the issues would be front and center, the nasty personal attacks kept at bay, and they even floated the quaint notion of traveling the country together to engage voters in a respectful competition of ideas.


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