But NBC’s David Gregory thinks so. Here was his exchange with Republican Speaker John Boehner on “Meet the Press” yesterday:
GREGORY: Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on something that my colleague Brian Williams asked you about last–this January, last month. He asked if you were willing to take on some members of your caucus who don’t believe that the president was actually born in the United States. And this was a portion of your answer, I want to play it.
BOEHNER [January 6]: We’re nothing more than a slice of America. And then people come with, regardless of party labels, they come with all kinds of beliefs and ideas. It’s, it’s the, the melting pot of America. It’s not up to me to tell them what to think.
GREGORY: And, indeed, members of Congress speak publicly and are outspoken and will say what their views are. And sometimes they have an effect on what people believe around the country. And there was a–something that caught my eye this week that was on Fox News on the Hannity program, a focus group with voters in Iowa led by Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist, and he had this exchange with them. I want to show it to you.
WOMAN IN FOCUS GROUP: I believe that Barack Obama’s religious beliefs do govern his foreign policy.
MR. FRANK LUNTZ: And what are his religious beliefs?
WOMAN: I believe that he is a Muslim.
GREGORY: As the speaker of the House, as a leader, do you not think it’s your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?
BOEHNER: David, it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That’s good enough for me. The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.
GREGORY: But isn’t that a little bit fast and loose? I mean, you are the leader in Congress and you’re not standing up to obvious facts and saying, “These are facts. If you don’t believe that, it’s nonsense.”
BOEHNER: I just outlined the facts as I understand them. I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian. I’ll take him at his word. But, but…
GREGORY: But that kind of ignorance about whether he’s a Muslim doesn’t concern you?
BOEHNER: Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can’t–it’s not my job to tell them.
GREGORY: Why isn’t it your job to stand up and say, “No, the facts are these”?
BOEHNER: I just did.
Ethicist Bob Stone agrees with Gregory, and also thinks GOP leaders have an ethical obligation to set Glenn Beck straight regarding some of his conspiracy theories, arguing that Boehner and other Republicans are “complicit in the lies if you don’t challenge them.”
This is a novel version of a political party’s ethical obligations, and one that is impossible, unreasonable, and remarkably one-sided. When President Obama publicly misled the public regarding the Arizona anti-immigration law, saying that a man “buying ice cream” could be detained and searched because he looked Hispanic, did Gregory, or “Ethics Bob,” argue that Democrats had an obligation to correct the misrepresentation of “obvious facts”? Sen Kerry was happy to accept the votes of supporters chanting the ridiculous “Bush Lied and People Died,” conveniently ignoring the fact that he was as convinced that Iraq had WMD’s as anyone in the Bush White House. Did Kerry have an obligation to correct the record? I don’t recall the press hectoring Democratic leaders to reprimand the Angry Left’s Truthers, who still claim that President Bush bombed the World Trade Center. Do you? Did Gregory lecture any Democratic leaders that they needed to tell the Palin-haters (and the New York Times) that Alaska’s Living Lightning Rod did absolutely nothing to justify linking her to Jared Loughner’s rampage? I must have missed this episode.
I also missed the “Meet the Press” installment when Gregory told Sen. Lieberman to stop fueling the lie that the 2000 Presidential election had been “stolen” because Gore got the most popular votes, disabusing the many Democrats who don’t comprehend the Electoral College of a cause for righteous indignation. (Do send me the YouTube clip, Bob.)
Hillary Clinton infamously gave a wavering endorsement of Obama’s Christianity when she opposed him for the nomination: why is correcting Obama’s doubters suddenly Boehner’s responsibility? Republican-hating comedian Bill Maher said on his HBO program just last week that he personally found it hard to believe that Obama is a Christian. Does Gregory really think that Boehner is ethically required to set him straight too? If Speaker Boehner has to confront Glenn Beck, as Bob Stone says, did I miss the earlier post about Nancy Pelosi having an obligation to tell off Keith Olbermann when he said,
“Those fighting health-care reform, not those debating its shape nor its nuance, people who demand the status quo, they are killing 45,000 Americans a year.”
Or when he said of Sen. Scott Brown, in a statement so absurdly hyperbolic and slanderous that it was mocked by Jon Stewart…
“In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees. In any other time in our history, this man would have been laughed off the stage as an unqualified and a disaster in the making by the most conservative of conservatives. Instead, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is close to sending this bad joke to the Senate of the United States.”
…did Bob Stone, or Gregory, suggest that Democratic leaders like Harry Reid were cynical and irresponsible to reap the electoral benefits from Olbermann’s followers rather than standing up for a besieged Republican? Please, tell me. I may have missed it. Am I being cynical to think that what is a “poisonous lie” when it unfairly undermines Democrats is just a matter of opinion when it slanders Republicans? Personally, I regard both “Bush Lied…” and the stolen election claim as far more poisonous than either the Birthers’ conspiracy theory, which is just annoying, and doubts about Obama’s religion. But David Gregory doesn’t, and of course, he know best.
If a prominent politician vocally challenges ignorant positions on behalf of his or her party’s supporters, they show exemplary ethics, integrity and civic responsibility. Bill Clinton qualified when he gave a public dressing down of a questioner who posed the theory of Bush Administration complicity in 9/11. Sen. McCain, during his presidential campaign, corrected a supporter who called Obama a Muslim. But correcting and challenging each party’s wackos, not to mention free agents like Beck, is a full time job, and frankly, it’s the press’s job. If the news media hadn’t thoroughly debased its reputation for objectivity, maybe it would be trusted when it lays out the facts about Obama’s Hawaian birth and religious background. The public, however, believes that the news media would say anything to support President Obama…and that is 100% the press’s own doing.
This week’s viewer of “Meet the Press” met the press, all right: they met the press that carries the water for the Democratic Party. If we want to establish an ethical standard in politics where we expect each party’s leaders to oppose the most irresponsible statements and beliefs of friendly talk show ideologues and extremist supporters, I’m up for the experiment, but pretending John Boehner and Republican leaders somehow have absolute ethical responsibilities that no party’s leaders have ever acknowledged before is the epitome of a double standard, and a politically motivated one. It also reeks of the assumption that only Republicans believe nonsense, propaganda, half-truths and conspiracies, because, as we all know and the media clearly believes, conservatives are morons.
The standard is also an impossible standard. I do not trust the media to decide what are “obvious facts,’ and I’m not sure I trust anyone who trusts the media. Next, Gregory and Bob will be demanding that Boehner has an obligation to set Sen. Inhofe straight on the “obvious facts” of global warming, or to tell Republicans that the health care reform act really will lower the deficit, or that the individual mandate is constitutional, or that God is a myth and creationism is a lie. And frankly, all of these issues are a lot more worthy of discussion than the cockamamie birth conspiracy theory and what Obama believes in his heart of hearts about the origins of the cosmos. (You know, it is almost certain that many of our Presidents were far from candid about their religious beliefs, because admitting to being an agnostic in their time was as politically ruinous as admitting to Muslim beliefs would be now. As Boehner says, I take the President at his word, but I don’t really know, and I couldn’t possibly care less.)
In summary, Gregory’s attack on Speaker Boehner was unfair. When there’s a bi-partisan standard in effect, evenly applied, let me know. I won’t be holding my breath.