On Sunday, when Rep. John Lewis elastically compared John McCain to the KKK bombers of a Birmingham church, the bland, indirect Washington Post headline was "Issue of Race Creeps Into Campaign." On Monday, picking up on a Time magazine report that Virginia Republican Party chair Jeff Frederick compared Obama to Osama bin Laden to campaign volunteers – "both have friends that bombed the Pentagon" – the Post used the direct headline: "GOP Head Compares Obama to bin Laden."
The story was by reporter Tim Craig. To Post junkies, this is amusing or sickening, depending on your point of view. Craig was one of two Post political reporters who spent 2006 making an enormous mountain out of George Allen's utterance of "macaca." Now he's suggesting that Obama's friendship and working relationship with an unrepentant terrorist is unfair campaign grist.
Craig’s story labored heavily to downplayg Obama’s ties to Weather Underground bomber Bill Ayers, writing at the top that Ayers had "confessed to domestic bombings," which would suggest repentance, which Ayers has never offered. Then Obama and Ayers had only "cursory interactions," and besides, Ayers wasn’t an effective bomber:
Yesterday, Frederick said he stood by the comparison, even though bin Laden planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon that killed 184 people and Obama was a child and hadn't met Ayers when the Weather Underground planted a bomb at the Pentagon in 1972. No one was hurt in that blast, in which a bomb exploded in a restroom and caused flooding and damage to computer tapes containing classified information.
Ayers did not participate in the bombing at the Pentagon but admitted to involvement in other blasts. He is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a community activist who lives in Obama's Chicago neighborhood. Obama has said they have had cursory interactions over the years, including serving on the same board.
Instead of explaining how Ayers recruited Obama to the Annenberg Challenge, the idea of a serious working relationship between the two men became a "lie," with the help of the Post:
Clark Stevens, an Obama spokesman, said Frederick's attack on Obama's relationship with Ayers "has been discredited and debunked time and again."
"The Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, like so many McCain supporters," Stevens said, "would rather lie about Barack Obama than make the case to the American people why Senator McCain's plans of continuing Bush's policies for another four years would be good for American families."
The most that Craig could do to explain the relationship was this: "Ayers once hosted a gathering for Obama when the candidate first ran for the Illinois state Senate in 1995. The two also served together on a nonprofit board that distributed educational grants in the city." He added:
Obama has denounced Ayers's actions in the 1960s and 1970s and describes him as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood."
The independent group PolitiFact.com has called the GOP attacks on Obama for serving on the same board as Ayers "malicious."
"It unfairly tars not just Obama, but all the other prominent, well-respected Chicagoans who also volunteered their time to the foundation," PolitiFact wrote.
Does an independent fact checker sound objective when they call an ad "malicious"? Doesn't assigning malice sound like editorializing? Read Alexander Lane's takedown on Ayers and you'll read an editorial. But the real problem is that Politifact is having trouble with the facts:
Ayers was a founding member of the militant Vietnam-era anti-war group the Weathermen. He was investigated for his role in a series of domestic bombings, but the charges were dropped in 1974 due to prosecutorial misconduct.
Ayers has publicly declared he was involved in bombings, and refused to disavow them. Craig doesn't note that Lane ends by trashing Stanley Kurtz of National Review and declaring the McCain ads are "Pants on Fire wrong." Does this sound like detached fact checking?
We could go on and on with evidence that the Chicago Annenberg Challenger was a rather vanilla charitable group. For example, under the deal with Annenberg every dollar from him had to be matched by two from elsewhere. The co-funders were a host of respected, mainstream institutions, such as the National Science Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Chicago Public Schools.
In short, this was a mainstream foundation funded by a mainstream, Republican business leader and led by an overwhelmingly mainstream, civic-minded group of individuals. Ayers' involvement in its inception and on an advisory committee do not make it radical – nor does the funding of programs involving the United Nations and African-American studies.
This attack is false, but it's more than that – it's malicious. It unfairly tars not just Obama, but all the other prominent, well-respected Chicagoans who also volunteered their time to the foundation. They came from all walks of life and all political backgrounds, and there's ample evidence their mission was nothing more than improving ailing public schools in Chicago. Yet in the heat of a political campaign they have been accused of financing radicalism. That's Pants on Fire wrong.