It was, says an angry Iowa staffer, a "double standard by the media" that drove her man Joe Biden out of the presidential race.

"You've got a president who has been deliberately deceiving the American public for seven years, but nobody takes him to task," Paulee Lipsman said the other day. "Maybe {journalists} are trying to prove they're not wimps by going after Biden."

Biden's press secretary, Eric Woolson, picked up the bitter theme. The former reporter acknowledged that Biden had "made some mistakes," but accused the media he lately served of overreacting to those mistakes. "Are you permitted to be a human being and still run for president?" he demanded. "Apparently you have to be a superman to run for president."

They should come off it. I have a certain amount of sympathy for people whose heroes let them down, but very little for people who refuse to face reality. And the reality of the failed Biden candidacy is that it was done in not by some reportorial "double standard" but by Joe Biden.

Double standard? Lipsman may be frustrated (as lots of us are) that Reagan gets away with deceptions, misstatements and plain falsehoods that would destroy other politicians. But the reason he gets away with them isn't because they aren't reported in the media. It is because the public chooses to overlook them.

Besides, Reagan, as erstwhile newsman Woolson should know, is the wrong parallel. Try Janet Cooke, the former Washington Post reporter whose Pulitzer Prize-winning story on an 8-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy turned out to be a fraud. She stole the descriptive details of this nonexistent waif from other sources as surely as Biden stole the descriptive details of his humble origins from British politician Neil Kinnock. The discovery of Cooke's fraud led to the uncovering of a disturbing history of fraud (including lies about her academic background) just as the discovery of Biden's rhetorical thefts led to disclosures of earlier deceptions.

Did the media apply a different standard to Cooke than to Biden? Not at all. Reporters who make up stories or who steal other people's words aren't always fired, as Janet Cooke was. But they are viewed as demonstrably unfit for elevation to the top of their profession. So is Biden.

It's worth pointing out that Biden himself has not claimed unfair treatment at the hands of the press. I wish members of his disappointed staff were capable of comparable grace.

The fact is that both journalists and politicians are from time to time guilty of professional fraud. Biden is hardly the first politician to borrow another speaker's joke, apt phrase, policy idea or rhetorical device. Few newspaper readers would be surprised to discover that a reporter either made up or at least synthesized a quote attributed to the ubiquitous "one observer."

My own weakness is for the insight that seems so correct, so illuminating, that I immediately adopt it as part of my own thinking. When I repeat it without attribution in a column or a speech, it is with no intent to deceive. I simply can't remember where I got it -- may not even remember that it was not a product of my own thinking.

I don't imagine that that makes it right, but I do imagine that it is forgivable. What is not forgivable is to take another writer's work and put one's own byline on it, as one newspaper writer did with a Carl Rowan column a few years back.

In journalism as in politics, there are lines that are not to be crossed, and most practitioners know where they are. Biden, who has given new meaning to the expression "You took the words right out of my mouth," crossed the line.

My occasional conversations with a fictional cabdriver, employed not to deceive but to make a point, are, at least in my view, as harmless as the appropriation of a good joke.

But it would be unforgivable, cause-for-firing fraud if I started listing those whimsical taxi rides on my expense account.