PUBLIC PERCEPTION….According to the latest Washington Post poll, 92% of Americans for whom terrorism is their major concern plan to vote for George Bush. What greater proof could there be of widespread public ignorance of the myriad ways Bush has screwed up the war against the perpetrators of 9/11, and increased rather than decreased the danger of terrorism? When I mentioned this problem to an editor of a major publication, he said, “you can’t blame us, we and all the other media” ? I assumed he meant to except FOX ? “have done articles about each of the missteps.”

Earlier, when I made a similar point about the fact that more people thought Kerry had behaved shamefully in regard to service in Vietnam than had Bush, he also said “It’s not our fault; we reported the facts.” And of course his defense was true in each case. But is it an adequate defense? Most of us think this election is crucial. Shouldn’t that mean the media has an obligation to do everything it can to make sure that major errors in public perception about the candidates are corrected? To me, the answer is a clear yes. Yet I’m sure most of my friends in the media would respond today the same way they did in 2000 when I pointed out that they had made Gore?s exaggerations the big story while putting Bush’s lies on page nine: they shrugged their shoulders and asked “What can we do? We’ve already reported the facts.”

In the meantime, this does mean that the Kerry campaign must make a major effort to do what the media won’t do. I urge Kerry to stop his foolish attempt to exploit each day’s news ? I’m sure that if he thought the next day’s headline was going to be “Flowers Wilt,” Shrum would have the Senator take a bold stand in favor of fresh flowers.

Kerry has been at his strongest when he has attacked Bush’s incompetence on Iraq and terrorism. In his best speech on the subject, at NYU in September, the Senator itemized each way Bush had been wrong ? in counting on Chalabi to build political legitimacy, in failing to provide enough troops to secure the country, in promising we’d be greeted as liberators, and in downplaying the importance of looting, and overestimating the state of Iraq’s sorry infrastructure. Returning to this set of simple charges would also make it possible for Kerry to undermine Bush’s main asset in the eyes of the insecure, his certainty, by repeating again and again Kerry’s great point that “it’s no good being certain if you’re wrong.”

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Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly.