The Times can't abide John McCain's newly assertive campaign ads attacking Barack Obama, judging by the paper's disappointed tone yesterday, which carried over into Thursday's off-lead story by Jim Rutenberg, "McCain Is Trying To Define Obama As Out Of Touch."
Once again a Times reporter prominently defended Obama against "inaccurate" and "misleading" attacks from the McCain camp.
After spending much of the summer searching for an effective line of attack against Senator Barack Obama, Senator John McCain is beginning a newly aggressive campaign to define Mr. Obama as arrogant, out of touch and unprepared for the presidency.
On Wednesday alone, the McCain campaign released a new advertisement suggesting - and not in a good way - that Mr. Obama was a celebrity along the lines of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Republicans tried to portray Mr. Obama as a candidate who believed the race was all about him, relying on what Democrats said was a completely inaccurate quotation.
Rutenberg doesn't go into detail, but my hunch is that the "completely inaccurate" quotation he's referring to is from a report by the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman, who quoted Obama as telling an audience of House Democrats:
I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.
Inother words, blame the Washington Post, not the GOP, for any "inaccurate quotation."
The Republican National Committee began an anti-Obama Web site called "Audacity Watch," a play on the title of Mr. Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope." And, in a concerted volley of television interviews, news releases and e-mail, campaign representatives attacked him on a wide range of issues, including tax policies and energy proposals.
The moves are the McCain campaign's most full-throttled effort to define Mr. Obama negatively, on its own terms, by creating a narrative intended to turn the public off to an opponent.
Although Mr. Obama has been under an intense public spotlight for the last year, he is still relatively new on the national scene, and polls indicate that for all the enthusiasm he has generated among his supporters, many voters still have questions about him, providing Republicans an opening to shape his image in critical groups like white working-class voters between now and Election Day.
Mr. McCain's more focused assault comes after one of his worst weeks of the general election campaign, when he seemed to fumble for a consistent, overarching critique of Mr. Obama, who winged around the Middle East and Europe. Mr. McCain's advisers continue to look for ways to bring more discipline to his message, and are being urged by some supporters to cut back the frequency of his question-and-answer sessions with reporters, a staple of his campaign but one that occasionally yields unscripted moments, misstatements and off-the-cuff pronouncements that divert attention from the themes he is trying to promote.
The intensity of the recent drive - which has included some assertions from the McCain campaign that have been widely dismissed as misleading - has surprised even some allies of Mr. McCain, who has frequently spoken about the need for civility in politics. The sentiment seeped onto television on Wednesday with Andrea Tantaros, a Republican strategist, saying on MSNBC that the use of Ms. Hilton in Mr. McCain's commercial was "absurd and juvenile," and that he should spend more time promoting his own agenda.
Rutenberg then relayed criticisms from both Democrats and Republicans before defending Obama against McCain's charges that he canceled a visit to wounded troops in Germany after learning the media could not follow him:
Mr. Schmidt, whom Mr. McCain placed in charge of day-to-day operations this month, specialized during the 2004 campaign in seizing on opportunities - think windsurfing; seemingly contradictory votes on Iraq policy - to paint Mr. Kerry negatively.
Seeking similar openings, the campaign seized on Mr. Obama's decision to skip a visit with wounded United States troops in Germany. (The McCain campaign said Mr. Obama canceled because he could not take the news media with him to the hospital, an assertion denied by the Obama campaign and undercut by the accounts of reporters.)