Al Gore never claimed that he invented the Internet. Howard Dean didn’t scream. Hillary Clinton didn’t say she was staying in the race because Barack Obama might be assassinated. And Wesley Clark didn’t impugn John McCain’s military service.
Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, titled his tell-all memoir “What Happened.” But a true account of modern American politics should be titled “What Didn’t Happen.” Again and again we’ve had media firestorms over supposedly revealing incidents that never actually took place.***
“Two days into the Wesley Clark fallout,” wrote the Columbia Journalism Review on Tuesday morning, “the press, the G.O.P., and the Obama campaign all seem to have agreed that Clark’s recent remarks on John McCain’s service record were at best impolitic and at worst despicable.”
Since then, however, both the press and the Obama campaign seem to have recovered some of their balance. Opinion pieces have started to appear pointing out that General Clark didn’t say what he’s accused of saying. Mr. Obama has also declared that General Clark doesn’t owe Mr. McCain an apology for his “inartful” remarks and denies that his own condemnation, in a speech given on Monday, of those who “devalue” military service was aimed at the general.
In the end, the Clark affair may have strengthened the Obama campaign. Last week, with his cave-in on wiretapping, Mr. Obama was showing disturbing signs of falling into the usual Democratic cringe on national security. This may have been the week he rediscovered the virtues of standing tall.
Furthermore, my sense, though it’s hard to prove, is that the press is feeling a bit ashamed about the way it piled on General Clark. If so, news organizations may think twice before buying into the next fake scandal.
Is McCain hosting a bbq today?