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When politicians get caught, it's the media who catch the blame

(Ed Reinke - AP)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 31, 2010

In her moment of utter humiliation, exposed on videotape by a journalistic impersonator, Sarah Ferguson didn't blame the press.

That's a rarity these days.

The Duchess of York could have railed against the lying media after a News of the World reporter posed as a businessman brandishing $40,000 in cash, a down payment for Ferguson's promise to introduce him to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. Instead, she apologized for her clumsy attempt at influence-peddling.

But other public figures keep trying to shift the blame from their own missteps to the news outlets that report on them -- a time-honored tactic designed mainly to get them off the hook.

Rand Paul, the GOP Senate nominee in Kentucky, spent nearly 20 minutes with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow talking about his objections to the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that affects private businesses. Maddow is an unabashed liberal who was taking on a "tea party" champion, but she gave her guest one opportunity after another to explain his position, with minimal interruption.

Even when Maddow asked "how about desegregating lunch counters?" Paul offered philosophical musings rather than flatly backing a concept that has been settled law in this country for nearly half a century:

"Well, what it gets into is, is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, 'Well, no, we don't want to have guns in here'?"

When Paul talked to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham the next day -- and issued a statement backing off his position -- he accused Maddow of "wanting to make this an issue of you supporting abhorrent practices, which I don't support. . . . They conflate things, want to say, 'Oh, you believe in beating up people that were trying to eat in restaurants in the 1960s.' . . . She went on and on about that."

Paul later told WHAS-TV that he had been "tortured" by Maddow, though he conceded the interview had been fair. And fed up with the mainstream media, he soon canceled an interview on "Meet the Press."

Sarah Palin picked up the theme on "Fox News Sunday," saying Paul had run into "a media personality who has an agenda, who may be prejudiced. . . . They're looking for that 'gotcha' moment." Leaving aside that her own network employs people who are just as ideologically committed, the lengthy Maddow interview was the opposite of "gotcha" -- and, in fact, Paul had made essentially the same point to the Louisville Courier-Journal a month earlier. (Most of the national press just missed it.)

It's true, though, that MSNBC jumped on the story and drove it for days, as Fox sometimes does with controversies involving liberals.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal refrained from launching a frontal attack on the New York Times after the newspaper revealed that he had not served in Vietnam, as he had claimed on numerous occasions. But Blumenthal made clear that he felt the media were taking "a few misplaced words" and using them to "impugn my record of service to our country."


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