Tuesday's New York Times report by Jeff Zeleny, "Campaign Flashpoints: Patriotism and Service" covered the back and forth between the McCain and Obama camps over a controversial comment by retired general and Obama adviser Wesley Clark about McCain's lack of qualifications to be president.In response to a question by Bob Schieffer on the CBS Sunday talk show "Face the Nation," Clark said of John McCain, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."But Zeleny also put heavy emphasis on fact-checking what he considers unfair attacks on Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama arrived here in Independence, the home of President Harry S. Truman, to open a weeklong patriotism tour. He sought to explain and defend his American ideals to ward off skepticism and silence persistent rumors about his loyalties to the nation. .... Mr. McCain has had to distance himself from remarks criticizing Mr. Obama's patriotism, particularly television advertisements from the Republican parties in several states. It was Mr. Obama on Monday who had sought to answer those questions about his own background even as he distanced himself from comments questioning Mr. McCain's service.....For his part, Mr. Obama vowed to fight back against conservative critics who have questioned his patriotism "to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for."
Predictably, Zeleny signed up for the Times' busy pro-Obama fact-check squad, which has been active in meticulously dissecting false anti-Obama rumors:
The speech was the latest attempt by the campaign to fight back against incorrect assertions that Mr. Obama will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, place his hand over his heart during the national anthem or wear a flag pin on his lapel. (He began wearing a pin two months ago after the criticism failed to subside.)
Mr. Obama sought to place his criticism into a broader context of American history, pointing out that Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of "selling out to the French," and John Adams was derided for being "in cahoots with the British."
The Times' Monday international edition filed another angle on the story by Brian Knowlton, heralding the frustratingly vague accusation that "conservative blogs" are questioning Obama's patriotism, without delivering concrete examples.
For his part, Obama traveled Monday to Independence, Missouri, to proclaim his patriotism in an appearance linked to the Fourth of July holiday. He defended Americans' right to differ with the majority, in a speech that traced a history of dissent going back to Jefferson. And he tried yet again to beat back persistent rumors, kept alive by conservative blogs and the rumor mill, that he is less than a true patriot.
In his speech in Missouri, Obama explicitly paid tribute to Senator McCain. Saying that patriotism involved loyalty to American ideals, "a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals," but also the strength for necessary sacrifice, he added that "for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country, no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary."
But he sent a measured warning to any political opponent who continues to question his own patriotism.
"Let me say at this outset of my remarks," he said: "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine."
As he spoke, the Illinois senator stood on a flag-bedecked stage and, providing visible refutation to rumors, he wore a clearly visible American flag pin on his lapel.
Knowlton cited a condescending Washington Post story as inarguable fact:
Rumors are a staple of politics, but Obama seems to face an unusual problem tamping them down. An article in The Washington Post on Monday summed up the entirely false rumors being widely circulated in small-town America this way: that "Barack Obama, born in Africa, is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance."
Patriotism, national security and foreign affairs were thus set to take an uncommonly high profile this week in both presidential campaigns.
Knowlton at least devoted his next-to-last paragraph to leftist bloggers accusing McCain of committing war crimes over Hanoi as a Navy pilot in Vietnam.