OK for AFL-CIO to Bash McCain, Yet Anti-Obama Mail Racially Suspect?

A tale of two mailings: One reporter revels in the the AFL-CIO's big political push against McCain, while another laments "...new, harsh anti-Obama literature in my mailbox."

Steven Greenhouse, the Times' pro-union, anti-Wal-Martlabor reporter, seemed prettyenthused about the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s attack mailings against John McCain in "A.F.L.-C.I.O. Targets Seniors," theneutrally headlined story he filed to the "Caucus" blog Tuesday morning.

Only two of the 19 paragraphs of Greenhouse's story are devoted to (very mildly) fact-checking the false claims from the union-backed mailing. Here's an excerpt:

The latest mailer is headlined, "John McCain: A Disaster for Retirees." It criticizes his proposal for partially privatizing Social Security, saying, "This risky move will jeopardize the chances of a secure retirement for millions of Americans."

The mailer also seeks to undermine the Republican candidate by saying, "McCain will cut Medicare." It says he "wants to fund his pro-insurance company health care plan by taking more than $1 trillion from Medicare."

The McCain campaign has attacked such assertions as wildly distorted, while some neutral experts have noted that Mr. McCain has never proposed such a large cut in Medicare, although he has indicated he would cut health care programs to help balance the budget.

Greenhouse is soft-pedaling here. In fact, the watchdog group FactCheck.org, which the Times has often treated as gospel when it comes to "correcting" John McCain claims, flatly calls the charge that McCain plans to cut Medicare by such a large amount "false."

Ms. Ackerman said, "Once retirees and seniors hear from their unions about where McCain stands on privatizing Social Security and taxing health-care benefits and where Obama stands on the issues, we know we can get a majority of these voters to support Obama."

Over the past week, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. expanded its campaign efforts into three additional states - Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia - that were won by George W. Bush in 2004, but are now viewed as winnable for Mr. Obama.

"We have a very nimble program because we have union members everywhere," [Karen] Ackerman said.

Greenhouse let AFL-CIO political director Ackerman crow for several paragraphs about the group's big budget and massive campaign effort, while never uttering a discouraging word. It was almost as if they were on the same team.

Compare that reaction to the scandalized tone taken by another Times reporter, Damien Cave, to the sight oftwo anti-Obama mailers in his Florida mailboxthat dared to attack Obama on taxes and crime. Cave's story, "In Florida Mailboxes, Harsh Attacks on Obama," was filed on "The Caucus" blog Monday evening.

Early voting in Florida began today, with long lines at several polling places, a flood of robocalls, a rally by Senator Barack Obama in Tampa - and some new, harsh anti-Obama literature in my mailbox.

Those of us who live in swing states are already familiar with negative television ads from both Democrats and Republicans. At this point, I'm on the verge of having nightmares with the giant ball of orange thread rolling through Senator Obama's health care ad- the one that runs incessantly here, ending with a narrator saying Senator McCain will leave you "hanging by a thread."

But even in this hot-headed environment, the literature stands out. One flier, paid for by the Republican National Committee, states that in the midst of the economic crisis "Barack Obama's solution is to take more of your money!"

By several fact-checkers' accounts, that's a misrepresentation of Senator Obama's tax plan, which would cut taxes for roughly 95 percent of the country.

To prove himself right, Cave linked to an article by Times' reporter Larry Rohter, who has rarely met an Obama attack he couldn't spin in Obama's favor. But both Cave and Rohter are wrong. Obama's tax plan can't cut taxes for 95% because many Americans pay no income tax at all. As the Media Research Center's Brent Baker has argued:

That 95 percent is impossible since one-third of those who file with the IRS are "non-payers," people who end up paying no tax or get money back which exceeds their payments. Obama plans to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and create other credits. For those for whom the credits surpass their tax obligation, those are not tax cuts, but spending hikes or federal giveaways akin to welfare.

Cave was grossly offended by another piece of literature, which dared to question Obama's record on crime:

The second piece of literature, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, provides a new line of attack. It alleges that Senator Obama would be soft on crime. Few issues are as racially radioactive, especially here in Miami, so it is worth asking: Does the flier go over the line?

Some of it focuses on Senator Obama's voting history (oversimplifying a present vote in the Illinois senate to suggest he is "against protecting children from danger," in one example). But on the front, there is a picture of Senator Obama, looking menacing, with an all-black background. On the other side, above the address it says: "Obama: 'he acted more as a friend to criminals than to cops...'"

At the end, Cave half-heartedly clarifies that race wasn't actually mentioned in the flier:

It ends with "Barack Obama, not who you think he is" but it does not mention Mr. Wright, nor does it mention race.

Calls to the state Republican party were not returned.