Editorial: Politics as usual: Beware of smears
We need to set the record straight on something, folks: Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign is NOT being funded by Internet contributions secretly channeled from underground neo-Nazi groups in Europe and America who are devoted to the cause of white supremacy and Aryan-Protestant domination of the world.
What? You haven’t heard that rumor yet? Actually, we haven’t heard it either ó but give it time. We’ve entered that silly season in the presidential race when half-baked conspiracy theories are flying more wildly than bullets at a Dick Cheney dove hunt, and the Internet smear machine is throttling into overdrive.
Latest example to float up from the muck: An e-mail message containing a column, purportedly written by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, which offers the “stunning revelation” that Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign has benefitted from an influx of Internet donations from Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. In keeping with the closet Muslim/”Manchurian candidate” paranoid fantasy, some of the contributions were even traced to China, the column says, basing its allegations on tips from one of the campaign’s “Internet geeks.”
The column looks authentic, even down to the Dowd photo that appears on the Times Web site. There is one problem, however. Dowd never wrote such a column, and the scenario it describes is a complete fabrication. It’s just as bogus as earlier Internet-generated smears about Obama having his hand on the Quran, instead of a Bible, while being sworn in as a senator or McCain going stark, raving bonkers during his imprisonment in Vietnam.
Such smears are nothing new, of course. They’re as old as politics itself and, in fact, many historians still rate the 1828 campaign between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams one of the nastiest on record, with ó among other colorful assaults ó Adams accused of being a pimp and Jackson of marrying his second wife before being legally divorced from his first. Imagine if they’d had new media back in the time of Old Hickory.
That’s what is different these days, and why it would be naive to discount the damage such hoaxes can do. In the 19th century, when many Americans were barely literate, smear campaigns had to depend on word-of-mouth transmission or publication in penny broadsheets of the day. The mud oozed a lot more slowly. With the explosion of television, radio and, now, the wonders of broadband Internet, lies travel at the speed of light. And too many of us get most of our “news” from campaign ad soundbites and partisan political screeds.
Just as we’re warned to guard against identity theft, Americans would be well served to arm themselves against the campaign scams that are certain to proliferate in the weeks and months ahead. We know how easy it is for criminals to steal passwords and account numbers. We should be just as vigilant against unscrupulous operatives feverishly working to hijack this election.