the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

March 13, 2007

Salon Needs a New Headline Writer


Earlier this month Salon ran an article about Dick Cheney’s visit to Afghanistan and couldn’t resist the “clever” headline “How Cheney bombed in Afghanistan”, despite the tastelessness of punning on an event that cost 23 people their lives.

Today Salon has a perfectly good article by Robert Polner on the weaknesses of one of the Republican presidential candidates, but again it’s marred by an unfortunate headline: “How to Swift-boat Rudy Giuliani”. Of course the article is not about Swift-boating and is not calling for Democrats to spread lies about Giuliani. This is made clear in the article itself (emphasis added):

In 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth challenged the established image of John Kerry as a decorated, wounded Vietnam War hero. Democrats who had supported Kerry because they thought his military service made him electable were shocked to find a Republican-funded 527 group using spurious information and savage ads to create doubt in the electorate about the candidate’s war record. Should Rudy Giuliani be the Republican nominee in 2008, Democrats can create the same doubt about him, but without relying on distortion. They could instead use the truthful words of sympathetic subjects who credibly blame Giuliani for the loss of their loved ones on Sept. 11.

The important characteristic of the SBVT’s attacks on Kerry is that they were lies. By applying the term “Swift-boat” to ordinary political attacks on a candidate — attacks that the article itself specifically describes as truthful — Salon is legitimizing the SBVT’s lies and effectively condoning real Swift-boating as a tactic.

I don’t want to “Swift-boat” Giuliani, and neither does Polner, apparently — only the headline writer does. Let’s leave the Swift-boating to the Republicans.

Update (9:28pm): Victory! At some point today they changed the headline to “What an anti-Giuliani ad should say” (thanks to Paul in the comments for the heads-up).

Update (10:29pm): Here’s Mark Schone’s explanation from the comments on Salon:

I edited this piece and wrote the original headline. My intent in using the phrase “Swift-boat” in the headline was to underline the writer’s point about aiming an attack straight at what is thought to be Giuliani’s strength. That is what the GOP did to Kerry in 2004. Kerry was put on the defensive about the very portion of his resume that was thought to make him the most electable Democrat. As the piece points out, the difference between what was said about Kerry then and what could be said about Giuliani in 2008 is that there would be no need to distort Giuliani’s record in order to attack his strength. But I take seriously the comments of those who think that “Swift-boating” necessarily entails lying and distortion, so I’ve changed the headline.


DCDL is a blog by Washington, DC-area members of Drinking Liberally. Opinions expressed are the writers’, not those of Drinking Liberally, which provides no funding or other support for this blog.

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