USA Today Spins Liberal Lincoln Chafee as a 'Centrist' and a 'Moderate'

According to USA Today's Susan Page, Lincoln Chafee, a Republican who left the party and voted for Barack Obama in 2008, is simply a "moderate."

A cover story for Tuesday's print edition of the paper featured the misleading sub-headline: "Centrists Fuel Big Crop of Contenders This Year." Nowhere in the 1800 word piece did Page describe Chafee as a liberal.

Instead, the politician, now running for governor of Rhode Island as an independent, is part of a "rebellion in the middle." Page sympathetically described the then-Senator's exit from the Republican Party after losing a 2006 reelection bid: "Chafee felt rejected by the GOP, which no longer seemed willing to include moderate Republicans like himself."

Of course, Chafee's lifetime American Conservative Union score was a meager 34. (To repeat, this was when he was a Republican.) Such a number put him to the left of Democrats such as Ben Nelson and only slightly less liberal than Robert Byrd.

Yet, Page touted Chafee not as a liberal, but as a truth teller:

He may be testing voters' appetite for honesty: In his announcement speech, he suggested addressing the state's daunting budget gap by levying a 1% sales tax on food, clothing, over-the-counter drugs and other items now exempt from the state's 7% sales tax. In a six-way debate on WPRI-TV in June — among two Democratic candidates, two Republicans and two independents — Chafee's tax proposal was the first question raised by moderator Tim White and the prime target of attack.

"He wants to raise taxes and I want to cut spending," Democrat Frank Caprio, the state treasurer and Chafee's leading competitor, said after the debate when asked about his strategy. "That's the difference between us."

Consider the facts here: The Democratic candidate is attacking Chafee for lobbying to raise taxes. Shouldn't that be enough for Page to refer to him as a liberal?

The best the journalist could do is to note the then-Republican's 2006 primary challenge "from the right."

Later, Page returned to the concept of raising taxes as simple honesty:

Chafee acknowledges that suggesting the tax hike is a calculated risk. He's counting on voters to reward a straightforward discussion of the options ahead. If they don't, he says, the fault will be his own failure to communicate and convince them.

The USA Today journalist also touted other party switchers, such as Florida Governor Charlie Crist, as examples of moderation: "There are more signs of centrists stirring as national politics remain sharply polarized, a factor some candidates cite for leaving or being pushed from their old allegiances."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org