WashPost Tries Comedy: Jim Webb's Against Exploiting Military Service in Campaigns?

On Wednesday, the Washington Post endorsed James Webb’s “independent-minded challenge” running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate against Sen. George Allen. If ever an endorsement has seemed less necessary to identify a newspaper’s position on a federal election, I’m not sure what it is. To match the endorsement, Wednesday’s Post had a classic Webb-fanzine story on the front of the Metro section.

The Metro section article was titled “Webb Is Reluctant To Advertise Duty: Veteran Blasts Allen’s Public Comments.” In a typical display of utter shamelessness, Michael Shear and Tim Craig reported “Webb said it is improper to use military service in an overtly political way.” Webb’s quote: “I don’t think it’s right to use someone’s service directly for a political reason.” This article should have been laughed away from the Metro desk. Webb’s biography as a Vietnam veteran and eight-month Navy Secretary under Reagan has been his constant, everyday calling card in this race. The man with the motto "Born Fighting" on every bumper sticker and yard sign? Need we remind the Washington Post of the Webb campaign's first TV ad? It went like this:

RONALD REAGAN: One man who sat where you do now is another member of our administration, assistant secretary of defense James Webb, the most decorated member of his class. James' gallantry as a Marine officer in Vietnam won him the Navy Cross and other decorations...

ANNOUNCER: Soldier, scholar, leader. Now Jim Webb is running for Senate.

Shameless. Ridiculous. Completely in the tank. Making fools of themselves. The Washington Post.

The article's also comical considering Webb's advocacy of left-wing veterans campaigning against the Iraq War, an interesting take for a man endorsed by John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry. (Actually, Webb trashed Bush’s lack of service and Kerry’s “radical” anti-veteran atrocity speeches at least twice in 2004.) And Webb drew major attention to the military record of Marine hero/Iraq atrocity-charging specialist John Murtha in the New York Times in January, attacking our CNSNews.com colleagues.

Has there been a Post story on Webb that hasn’t mentioned him as veteran and Navy Secretary? That the Shear & Craig unpaid publicist team would write an article based on Webb being “uncomfortable talking about his personal story” is comical. After publicizing Webb being offended that Sen. George Allen’s “repeated mentions of the death of a constituent’s son in Iraq,” telling voters the man’s dog tags “hang from his dresser mirror,” Shear & Craig once again lay out the old Webb resume:

 “He is a decorated veteran, a former Navy secretary and a prolific author. Despite making his opposition to the Iraq war the centerpiece of his campaign, most of Webb's commercials make no mention of his military experience, and his reluctance to dwell on that past has frustrated his supporters. Though he wears combat boots to honor his Marine son Jimmy, Webb rarely talks about his son.”

Those boots were displayed in the Washington Post and the New York Times (along with Allen's cowboy boots) the day after the Virginia contenders met on NBC’s Meet the Press. . They were prominently featured, in color, in a photo of a cross-legged Webb on the front of Wednesday’s Style section.

The headline as the story continued inside the section was “Webb Leery of Parading Military Duty in Contest.” You had to marvel at this sentence: “Webb's comments came during an hour-long interview in which he reiterated his desire to serve in the Senate. Allen declined a similar invitation.” Who on Earth would advise him to accept, considering the Post's junkyard-dog coverage of this race?

(Inside the Metro section, Rhonda Winfield, the woman who gave Sen. Allen her son’s dog tags expressed outrage that Webb would criticize Allen for mentioning her son Jason on the trail. “He is my voice in a way I cannot be.”)

Shear & Craig also make the odd claim that in the midst of Webb's TV slime-a-thon on "Macaca" and Allen's scandalous "stock options" non-disclosure, Webb doesn't see himself as getting personal:

Although his campaign advisers and ads have hammered Allen's personal ethics, Webb has often frustrated advisers by refusing to attack Allen personally. Webb said he is uneasy making that case for his candidacy.

"This is not personal, for me, it's not personal," he stressed.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis