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How To Fight A Smear

Dahlia Lithwick has a really good piece lamenting the fact that the mainstream media has failed to take on the right-wing smear campaign against Yale Law prof--and Obama's nominee to serve as the State Department's top lawyer--Harold Koh:

You can certainly argue that ignoring the whole story signals that it's beneath notice. But it also means that, once again, the only players on the field work for Fox News. So last night, while you were reheating Monday's lasagna, Glenn Beck was jubilantly warning his viewers that Koh went to Europe and "protested against Mother's Day." And thus one of the country's leading academics—a man who has authored 175 law review articles and/or legal editorials and eight books—has been reduced to an ad hoc answer to a gotcha question that nobody but the questioner himself seems to understand.

Why am I bothered by this? This kind of vicious slash-and-burn character attack, the kind in which the nominee is attacked as a vicious hater of America, is hardly new. The little trick of upending Dean Koh's legal arguments and recharacterizing them as the nefarious plotting of Dr. Evil is a surprise to nobody at this point. But we can be bothered even if we're not surprised. When moderate Americans and the mainstream media allow a handful of right-wing zealots to occupy the field in the public discussions of an Obama nominee, they become complicit in a character assassination.

This is all true, but here's the problem, at least from my perspective. Until I read Dahlia's piece, I wasn't even aware that there was a right-wing smear campaign against Koh. As journalists, we obviously have to cover things we don't necessarily enjoy covering (and even things we initially enjoy covering may become tedious after a while; just talk to any sports reporter who no longer appreciates his front-row seat at the Final Four). But with the advent of Fox News and conservative blogs, the definition of "coverage" has kind of mutated. It's no longer just about talking to sources or covering events; it's about consuming media, too. And now, it's almost as if you have to watch Glenn Beck and read Michelle Malkin--or you're not doing your job. And, honestly, I can't think of anything more soul-crushing than watching Beck and reading Malkin on a daily basis. So I'm not really sure what's to be done. I guess suffering through hours of Fox News programming is the price to be paid for eternal vigilance, but it's not necessarily the job I--and a lot of other journalists, I assume--signed up for.

--Jason Zengerle