The New York Times Just Keeps Getting the Max Cleland Ad Wrong

April 18th, 2011 3:58 PM

In her Sunday off-lead New York Times story on bipartisan senators looking for budget compromise, “‘Gang of Six’ In the Senate Tackles Debt – A Bipartisan Effort to Build a Budget, Jackie Calmes furthered the Times’s long-standing legend about the “nasty” campaign ad by Republican Saxby Chambliss that helped him defeat Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia in 2002.

Once again, the Times falsely described a “nasty” anti-Cleland campaign ad by Chambliss, this time claiming it was “picturing Mr. Cleland with Osama bin Laden.” Has anyone at the Times ever actually watched the ad?

Days after President Obama called for forming a bipartisan group in Congress to begin negotiating a $4 trillion debt-reduction package, the parties have not even agreed to its membership. Yet six senators -- three Democrats, three Republicans -- say they are nearing consensus on just such a plan.


The group’s oldest members -- Senator Richard J. Durbin, 66, a progressive from Illinois who counts the Senate’s only socialist as a friend and ally, and Senator Saxby Chambliss, 67, a genial Georgia conservative whose nasty first campaign left lingering bad feelings among Democrats, and who is a confidant of Speaker John A. Boehner -- illustrate that even with the mounting federal debt intensifying the partisan divide over spending and taxes, the severity of the fiscal threat is forging unlikely alliances.
If Mr. Durbin and Mr. Chambliss can cut a deal on Social Security and new tax revenues, their associates say, then just maybe all of Washington can come together.


For many actual Democrats, Mr. Chambliss remains negatively defined by his 2002 defeat of Senator Max Cleland, a triple-amputee veteran of Vietnam, after a campaign that included an ad picturing Mr. Cleland with Osama bin Laden. Mr. Chambliss’s work on the Gang of Six has done as much as anything to soften attitudes.

No, it didn't.

As Times Watch has pointed out ad nauseum, the New York Times has long fostered the myth that an ad by Chambliss cost Cleland his 2002 re-election by questioning his patriotism and linking him to Osama bin Laden. (If you're more curious about the actual ad than is the average Times reporter, you can watch it on YouTube.)

Over a montage of four photographs, one each of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, two others of the U.S. military, a narrator reads: "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead." Only then does the ad show clips of Cleland, while substantively pointing out Cleland voted against Bush's Homeland Security efforts 11 times. Cleland and bin Laden did not share the same frame.