Oh James, James. What am I going to do with you? For the third time this year you have barged into Ethics Dunce territory, surely a place one of the most consistently perceptive, witty and reasonable of conservative commentators never belongs.
But what is an ethicist to do when you attempt to trivialize an outrageously dishonest and misleading campaign ad by Mitt Romney, in which a statement by President Obama [ “Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote: ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,’ “referring to the 2008 economy under Bush ] is edited to suggest something completely different [ “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,” implying that “we’ means the Democrats] from what he was really saying, by showing that other politicians and New York Times columnists play the same unethical game? So what? How do the unethical journalistic practices of the Times columnists you deftly expose on a regular basis in any way make Romney’s ad less reprehensible?
“The term for this practice, coined by this column, is “dowdification,” after … Maureen Dowd, then and still a Times op-ed columnist. Dowd isn’t the only [ media commentator] who has engaged in such deception. Last January, as we noted, former Enron adviser Paul Krugman accused Republicans, and specifically Rep. Michele Bachmann, of employing “eliminationist rhetoric”–that is, calling for the murder of her political foes–because, as Krugman put it, she was “urging constituents to be ‘armed and dangerous.’ ” It turned out Bachmann was speaking metaphorically. She wanted them to be “armed” with information about a legislative proposal she opposed. The Romney ad thus lives up to the standard of truthfulness practiced by the New York Times op-ed page. Decide for yourself if that is exculpatory or damning.”
What is this? An “everybody does it” defense of Romney’s cheap trick? A “you can’t criticize Romney for running a dishonest campaign because you write dishonest columns” attack the accuser tactic? A tortured attempt to use Romney’s slimy distortion of Obama’s words to support an attack on people Taranto really enjoys going after? Virtually all the examples of distortion by the Times writers have been thoroughly exposed by Taranto before; what is gained by mentioning them again, unless Taranto thinks this makes Romney look better?
It doesn’t. And while surrounding a wrong-doer with a hoard of unsavories is a time-tested method to make him seem benign by comparison, in this case the strategy is as futile as it is misguided. Mitt Romney is the only one of this group of rhetorical cheaters running for president, you see. I don’t really care about the lousy ethics of New York Times columnists; their methods are well-known and obvious, their impact is limited, and I can happily exist without them. The leader of my country, however, has to be more trustworthy than them. Taranto surely knows this. He should be trying to focus ethical scrutiny where it belongs—on a potential leader—rather than seeking to dilute the candidate’s offense by comparing it to ethics-challenged journalists.