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Vigilance needed on campaign claims

NBC  News’ Washington bureau chief and host of "Meet the Press" discusses campaign smears and the big issues of the 2008 campaign.
/ Source: NBC News

Msnbc: Tim, is a web site launched by the Barack Obama campaign to combat potentially damaging rumor about the candidate and his wife, Michelle. Is this necessary?  How big of a problem is this really?

Tim Russert: It’s amazing how much the Internet has changed our lives.  People get emails that make accusations without foundation and they are circulated around the country within seconds and suddenly become topics of conversations around water coolers or in lunchrooms.

I remember being in Indianapolis covering the Indiana primary and a man came up to me and said he wasn’t going to vote for Senator Obama because he was very concerned about the comments made by Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor.  I said, “That’s interesting.  As a reporter, I’m curious what comments particularly bothered you?”  He said, “Well, I can’t think of any that come to mind, but I also read on the Internet that he’s a Muslim.”  And I said, “Now wait a minute.  You can’t have both.  You can’t be offended by his Christian minister and then say he’s a Muslim.  You’ve got to pick one.”

But that just underscores what we’re dealing with in this modern era.

Now I’m told there’s a counter organization with a very similar name that is going to be positioned and posted to spread the rumors, so that people that go to the Internet to get clarification will go to the wrong web site and get confused.

It’s a virus.  You have bloggers on both sides, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats all trying to utilize this vehicle without any kind of fact checking and without any kind of editorial control.

Msnbc:  Given the way people use the Internet, do you wonder if there are going to be some things said or done during the course of this campaign that will be very unsettling?

Russert:  That’s what we have to be conscious of and vigilant against, particularly at the end of the campaign as things are put out there.  We’ve already had a few fake videos with different words dubbed in and people say, “This must be true because I saw it on the Internet.”

What we hope to do in this campaign is recognize there are big differences on big issues between John McCain and Barack Obama – the war in Iraq, Iran, Social Security, taxes.  You don’t need to get into this other stuff.  If it does surface, then I think the mainstream media has an obligation not to just instinctively put it out there without vetting it.  Or, if it is something that is manufactured as a virus, report on that – who did it and why.  But sometimes it’s very hard to trace it back to its original source.

Msnbc:  Who do you have coming up on Meet the Press?

Russert:  We’re going to talk big issues with a debate: Obama vs. McCain.  Joe Biden will represent Barack Obama; Lindsey Graham will represent John McCain.

Msnbc:  Do you think Lindsey Graham might be on the ticket with John McCain?

Russert: I think he’s on the list. South Carolina is a solid state, but McCain really likes his passion and his ability to be on the attack against the Democrats on these foreign policy issues. I think Biden is someone who’s very much on Obama’s list because of his wealth of foreign policy experience, his knowledge of the Iran and the Iraq. It’ll be interesting. They’re both coming into the studio.  It could be an vice presidential audition.  A Meet the Press audition, coming your way Sunday, on Meet the Press!