The criticism of Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital doesn’t appear to be leaving the headlines. And thus some political reporters are, as Jamison Foser notes, drawing an unusual comparison: Romney is being Swift Boated.
The latest example comes from Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (7/17/12):
In a sense, Romney deserves the Swift Boating he’s now getting from the Obama campaign and the president himself.
In case you missed the 2004 campaign: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was formed to cast doubt on John Kerry’s Vietnam War record. TV commercials were cooked up to expose Kerry as a fraud who didn’t deserve his medals. The press too often passed along these baseless smears instead of challenging them.
Nothing about the Swift Boat attacks on Kerry resembles the Obama attacks on Romney’s Bain record. The analogy would only make sense if Obama and his campaign surrogates were making wild claims about how Romney didn’t actually run Bain at all.
Oh, wait–that’s actually closer to what Romney is saying. Romney is Swift Boating himself.
Kidding aside, there’s actually something profound going on here. For political reporters, the term “Swift Boating” has come to mean simply attacking your opponent. In 2008, Wesley Clark was accused of Swift Boating John McCain because he said, “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.” He did not suggest McCain wasn’t actually a prisoner of war or a pilot; in fact, he celebrated McCain’s military service.
The tendency to see political attacks–even sharp ones–as “Swift Boating” is to diminish the mendacity of the actual Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry. It is perfectly emblematic of a press corps that prioritizes campaign strategy over truth.