"McCain Goes Negative, Worrying Some in G.O.P.," the Times fretted Wednesday in a headline over a story by reporter Michael Cooper. The story was instructive, as Times' readers learned thatwhile it'sperfectly acceptable for the Times to call conservative Sen. Tom Coburn "Dr. No" in a front-page headline, it's bad for John McCain to call Barack Obama the same thing.
Cooper opened his story:
In recent days Senator John McCain has charged that Senator Barack Obama "would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign," tarred him as "Dr. No" on energy policy and run advertisements calling him responsible for high gas prices.
(The headline to Monday's front-page story about Sen. Tom Coburn: "Democrats Try to Break Grip Of the Senate's Flinty Dr. No.")
The old happy warrior side of Mr. McCain has been eclipsed a bit lately by a much more aggressive, and more negative, Mr. McCain who hammers Mr. Obama repeatedly on policy differences, experience and trustworthiness.
By doing so, Mr. McCain is clearly trying to sow doubts about his younger opponent, and bring him down a peg or two. But some Republicans worry that by going negative so early, and initiating so many of the attacks himself rather than leaving them to others, Mr. McCain risks coming across as angry or partisan in a way that could turn off some independents who have been attracted by his calls for respectful campaigning.
The drumbeat of attacks could also undermine his argument that he will champion a new brand of politics.
In a familiar pattern, the Times continues to be very touchy when it comes to "misleading" attacks on Barack Obama:
Some of his lines of attack have been accused of being misleading. Mr. McCain, for instance, said Mr. Obama had voted in the Senate "for tax hikes that would have impacted those making $32,000 a year." FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan Web site, said the vote was on a budget resolution to raise taxes on people making $41,500 a year; the $32,000 figure, it said, was the amount of taxable income those people had.
An advertisement criticized Mr. Obama for the high price of gas. "Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?" an announcer intoned, as chants of "Obama, Obama" were heard.