New York Times Trots Out Cleland Canard

"Obama’s Lobbyist Policy Excludes Cleland" was posted last night on the New York Times's "The Caucus" blog.  It relates that former Georgia Senator Max Cleland was disinvited from a Barack Obama fundraiser because the decorated war veteran is now a registered lobbyist.

The piece ends with:

As a surrogate for Senator John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, Mr. Cleland often got marquee billing at campaign events, even landing a coveted speaking role at the Democratic National Convention. He lost his bid for a second term in 2002 after a Republican television advertisement depicted him as unpatriotic.

The assertion that Cleland's opponent in the 2002 election, Saxby Chambliss, challenged his patriotism is inaccurate.  Michael Crowley is senior editor of The New Republic, a magazine described by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz as "left-leaning."  In an April 2, 2004 Slate article titled "Former Sen. Max Cleland: How the disabled war veteran became the Democrats' mascot," Crowley described what actually occurred:

Most famously, Chambliss ran a vicious ad on Cleland's homeland security votes featuring images of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. In the popular liberal mythology, the ad disgustingly questioned Cleland's patriotism. "To this day I am motivated by—and I will be throughout this campaign—the most craven moment I've ever seen in politics, when the Republican Party challenged this man's patriotism in the last campaign," John Kerry has said.

But that's not what happened. The ad, though sleazy in its use of Osama and Saddam, didn't question Cleland's patriotism. It questioned his political courage and judgment. It focused narrowly on his behavior in office and his actual votes against the Homeland Security Department. With images of Bin Laden and Saddam flashing onscreen, a narrator declared that, "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead." The ad then listed Cleland's votes against the Homeland Security Department and said he was stalling "the president's vital homeland security efforts." It concluded: "Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead, but the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading."

Unfortunately, Cleland did a lousy job of responding to such attacks. As he was pummeled on national security—clearly the issue of the day as war with Iraq neared, Cleland stuck to stale Democratic themes like Social Security. Occasionally, Cleland and his supporters counterattacked, but they were ineffective.

Crowley's evaluation is correct.  Cleland's opponent questioned his judgment, not his patriotism.  The rest is a liberal myth, one still being circulated by the New York Times.

2008 Presidential New York Times Journalistic Issues Max Cleland Saxby Chambliss