An Incomplete on Grading Anti-McCain Ads

Julie Bosman trumps up McCain's "Keating Five" involvement and fails to fully question the "rape kit" story.

On the eve of the vice-presidential debate, reporter Julie Bosman reviewed four independent anti-McCain ads in a "Caucus" blog post reprinted in Thursday'spaper.

Just before Thursday's vice-presidential debate, four independent groups have been trying to seed public opinion by running advertisements that are critical of Gov. Sarah Palin and Senator John McCain.

First up, an ad from Campaign Money Watch that focused...

...on Mr. McCain's involvement in the Keating Five scandal, in which Mr. McCain, of Arizona, was accused of improperly exerting influence on regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, the high-flying financier and campaign contributor whose savings and loan collapse cost taxpayers $2 billion.

The spot is fairly tame, but dredges up a scandal that Mr. McCain would rather forget, particularly as Americans are struggling to accept, the government's proposed $700 billion bailout of financial institutions.

McCain's responsibility in the "Keating Five" scandal has often been overstated. He was in fact exonerated by the Senate Ethics Committee. And as the Times itself reported in November 1999 (hat tip Ann Coulter), partisan politics were involved:

But Senator McCain was the only Republican embroiled in the affair, and Democrats on the panel would not release him, even at the urging of his friend Mr. Rudman, who was then a senator and the senior Republican on the committee.

''McCain was going to remain their Republican hostage, no matter what,'' Mr. Rudman wrote in his memoir, ''Combat.'' The ethics investigation took two years to complete, which taught Mr. McCain he could not rely on the go-along-get-along ethos of the Senate in an era of growing partisan rancor.

Next upin Bosman's piece was a description of a bizarre ad criticizing Sarah Palin for being a moose hunter, or something. Then came an ad from the abortion group Planned Parenthood spreading the liberal "rape-kit" myth about Palin. Bosman challenged it, but didn't totally debunk it:

Planned Parenthood has produced a 30-second spot focusing on Ms. Palin's tenure as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

It begins with a shot of a young, dark-haired woman named Gretchen who identifies herself as a rape victim.

The narrator begins, "Under Mayor Sarah Palin, women like Gretchen were forced to pay up to $1,200 for the emergency exams used to prosecute their attackers."

Independent fact-checkers have examined the controversy over rape kits. PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of The St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, found that while the policy was in place while Ms. Palin was mayor, there is no evidence that she directly endorsed the policy, nor that she ever commented on the policy.

Slate writer Rachel Larimore has called it a "nasty and untrue rumor," and it's been thoroughly debunked in several places. There's no evidence any woman in Wasilla ever paid for a rape kit.But the Times still hasn't gotten the full story, as evidenced by Bosman's incomplete piece and by a signed editorial last Friday.

To Bosman's credit, she went strongly after another, even more tasteless anti-McCain ad, from the California Nurses Association, thatpainted McCain's as one step from the grave:

At one point, the spot shows Mr. McCain before a black background and a pulsing signal from a heart-rate monitor that turns into a flat line.

"One heartbeat, one heartbeat, one heartbeat away," a chorus cheerfully sings.

Even opponents of Mr. McCain are likely to find such a graphic reference to his health offensive, undermining the message of the advertisement.