In a February 22 Politico article, chief political correspondent Mike Allen touted the "just-the-facts fashion" of the Republican National Committee's smear-riddled attacks on leading 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, which he called a "sophisticated new way for the party to infuse the blogosphere and airwaves with a coordinated, fact-based message." Purporting to refute what he said were critics' charges of "pre-fab mudslinging," Allen wrote that "the documents are laid out in a just-the-facts fashion, with each charge linked to a citation for a news story." But the first part of the "just-the-facts" sheet on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), for example, consists for the most part of a list of media figures calling Clinton "calculating" or using similar words, ostensibly providing the "fact[ual]" support for the RNC's characterization of her as, in fact, "calculating."
Also, Allen falsely claimed that "[s]uch 'talking points' used to be closely held, but Republicans are going public with them in an effort to standardize the message they propagate through the new media culture." In fact, the RNC has been distributing "talking points" to media outlets for years.
If you suddenly start hearing a lot about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., having a "calculating nature" and "political baggage," or being a "lifelong liberal," it won't be a coincidence. Similarly, get ready to see Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., strafed for his "short political timeline" (a euphemism for "rookie"), for being "arrogant and insulated" and a liberal rubberstamp. John Edwards? "New negative tone," "running to the far left" and "hypocritical."
The put-downs -- some clever, some blunt -- are part of an attack-o-matic that the Republican National Committee is encouraging its supporters to use in preparing for their appearances on cable television and talk radio. The 69-page playbook, posted on the national party's Web site (GOP.com) on Tuesday as "Meet the Real Dem Candidates," devotes 10 pages each to Clinton, Edwards and Obama; nine each to Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut; and seven each to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.
The Republican tip sheets, each with the antiseptic title of "Research Report," constitute a sophisticated new way for the party to infuse the blogosphere and airwaves with a coordinated, fact-based message. They help allies who come with their own credibility and are not identified as party officials.
Critics will call it pre-fab mudslinging, but the documents are laid out in a just-the-facts fashion, with each charge linked to a citation for a news story. Such "talking points" used to be closely held, but Republicans are going public with them in an effort to standardize the message they propagate through the new media culture.
Allen's article offered no critical analysis of the RNC's allegations, which include the claim that Clinton is "calculating." As Media Matters for America has documented, portrayals of Clinton as "calculating" in the media are rarely supported by facts. Notably, the RNC twice cited Allen's January 23 Politico article as "proof" for its "calculating" slur -- a fact Allen neglected to mention. The RNC cited Allen's work four more times in attacking Obama as "arrogant and insulated." At no point did Allen acknowledge that his articles for The Politico were cited six times by the RNC as support for its "just-the-facts" allegations.
Also, Allen's suggestion that "going public" with talking points is a new tactic for the RNC is simply false. RNC talking points attacking Democrats have been disseminated to the media for years and have formed the basis for newspaper stories. The Washington Post reported on July 29, 2002:
The centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) opened a summer convention here today that will feature many of the party's prospective 2004 presidential candidates teeing off on the Bush administration, but it was Republicans who fired off the first talking point.
Under a headline that begins, "Looking Backward," the Republican National Committee's seven-page memo seeks to make the argument that the Democrats most interested in challenging President Bush in 2004 are determined to resurrect the old Democratic Party rather than follow the moderate course that helped Bill Clinton defeat Bush's father in 1992.
The memo is a selective reading of history with the partisan goal of trying to claim the center of the political spectrum for the GOP, and it was met with derision from DLC leaders today. "The current Republican Party," said DLC President Bruce Reed, "wouldn't know a centrist if they saw one."
The Chicago Tribune reported on August 25, 2002:
Though the chase for the Democratic nomination won't begin in earnest until next year and President Bush enjoys comfortable approval ratings, the White House is watching Edwards carefully. He is the only potential candidate amid a field of Democrats whom the president has directly attacked, during a visit to Edwards' home state -- suggesting that Republicans view the senator as a greater threat than the others.
Almost everywhere Edwards travels these days -- especially here in Iowa, where voters will be the first in the nation to pick presidential candidates -- the Republican National Committee issues a scathing news release or talking points about Edwards' career as a trial lawyer famous for winning multimillion-dollar judgments.
"That's fine," the senator says, admitting he is surprised that the White House is paying attention. "If he wants to be on the side of the insurance companies, we'll let him."
As Media Matters documented, the language in Allen's reporting has provided the basis for GOP attacks against Obama. The RNC based a February 9 news release on Allen's February 5 Politico article claiming Obama "has a bubble around him." The press release alleged, "Obama Bubble Tightens As Candidate Dodges First Primary Forum."