Fools rush in

More false starts in the race to demonize Daschle.

By Brendan Nyhan

Published October 15, 2002 11:03PM (EDT)

In yet another example of the right's ongoing campaign to manufacture attacks against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Rush Limbaugh recently helped promote an obviously suspect report from an ex-staffer about Daschle's name appearing on an antiwar petition. The original story about Daschle and the petition was written by Joel C. Rosenberg, a former staff writer for the Limbaugh Letter who now serves as a contributor to Jewish World Review, a conservative Web site, and a columnist for the conservative World Magazine. Rosenberg called Daschle's office to inquire about the senator's listing as an online signer of the "Not in Our Name" (NION) petition, which appeared in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times in recent weeks. When the Daschle staffer that Rosenberg contacted did not immediately deny the charge, he rushed the story onto the JWR Web site, where it ran under the headline "Daschle now sides with president, but signed radical anti-war petition." After noting Daschle's recent support for the president's policy toward Iraq, Rosenberg wrote that "Sen. Daschle is a co-signer of a defiant anti-war petition distributed nationwide in recent weeks."

Much later in the story, he clarifies that "the Senate Majority Leader's press office was contacted, NION's statement and Daschle's listing as a co-signer was explained, and a request for verification of the validity of Daschle's support for the group's statement and goals was requested. A press staffer, however, would neither confirm nor deny Daschle's involvement with the petition or the group." Of course, a cursory glance at the Not in Our Name Web site shows that anyone can add any name to the online version of the petition. As James Taranto has pointed out in the Wall Street Journal's online Best of the Web column, the petition has been signed in recent days by such distinguished citizens as Ben Dover, Youcommies Are Nuts, Weldon M. Rumproast and Al Koholic.

But instead of securing official confirmation before publishing the story, Rosenberg rushed it into print and then e-mailed Limbaugh, who quickly read the article on the air in his typically irresponsible fashion. "Did Daschle actually put his name to this group's petition, or did they put it there without his knowledge?  We'll go on the if basis." The host then quickly segued from admitting that Daschle might not have actually signed the petition to speculative attacks on one of his favorite targets, imitating Daschle supposedly playing to Hollywood leftists while he supports Bush. "'We've always been supporting the president. Oh yeah, can't wait to start dropping those bombs on ol' Saddam. In fact, I want to fly the first B-1 that flies over there and drops those bombs,' says Tom Daschle. 'I want to be the guy that sends the first laser-guided bomb into Palace 3.' Then he's telling the Ed Asners and the Tom Haydens and the Jane Fondas of the world, 'I'm right in there with you. I think this is horrible. Not in my name, Tom Daschle.' So if this proves out, if it's true, then it's exactly what we said today is going on. They're trying to satisfy the split in their party. 'Don't put my name in the ad though, OK. Just put it on the Web site. Nobody will see it there. But leave it off the news -- I'd be concerned, Tim [Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press"], if my name was on that ad in the New York Times. It would be outrageous. Outrageous.' We'll wait for further confirmation on this."

Daschle's press office then put out an official statement Thursday afternoon denying that the senator had ever signed the petition. That evening, Fox News reported that the whole thing was a hoax. Rosenberg was forced to retreat the next day, though he buried his admission that Daschle had denied the report in an attack on Daschle's work in Congress for former Sen. Jim Abourezk, D-S.D. In a separate report for World, Rosenberg admitted that Daschle's office had denied the charge within four hours of his first call, showing just how quickly the first story was rushed out. Evidently he learned all too well from his former boss.

Brendan Nyhan

Brendan Nyhan is a political scientist currently serving as a RWJ Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of Michigan.

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