A Double Standard on "Smears"

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Willie Horton ad fall under the "smear" category, but the NAACP's 2000 attack on George W. Bush doesn't.

The Sunday Week in Review featured an artistically titled piece by reporter Paul Vitello, "How to Erase That Smea..." (As in erasing the word "smear," apparently) on how presidential campaigns are under new pressure to respond to attacks quickly and forcefully.

Strangely enough, all but one of Vitello's campaign "smears" (the exception is LBJ's infamous 1964 "Daisy" ad against Republican Barry Goldwater, which Vitello admitted has "still never quite been equaled") involve the GOP, including one of dubious veracity about offensive phone calls during the 2000 GOP South Carolina primary pitting John McCain against George W. Bush:

And the 11th-hour telephone "survey" of Republican primary voters in South Carolina in 2000, asking "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" will probably keep its place on the Mount Rushmore of smear for a while.

Despite the Times' confidence in the veracity of this popular anecdote, which has gained widespread media acceptance, there are serious questions as to whether the calls actually occurred. No audio recording has ever surfaced; the accusation is based on hearsay. Byron York investigated for National Review in 2004 and concluded "there is no hard evidence that the calls occurred."

Other apparent "smears" outlined by Vitello are attacks on John Kerry's Vietnam record by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, as well as ads highlightingMassachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis's furlough of convicted killer Willie Horton.

Not listed as a smear: the notorious NAACP adattacking George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign, linkingBush, then the governor of Texas,to the 1998 racist murder of James Byrd, a black man dragged to his death behind a pickup truck. As governor, Bush had not signed hate crimes legislation in the aftermath of Byrd's murder.