Michael Cooper and Jim Rutenberg look at the truth about John McCain and flinch from telling their readers about it:

Harsh advertisements and negative attacks are a staple of presidential campaigns, but Senator John McCain has drawn an avalanche of criticism this week from Democrats, independent groups and even some Republicans for regularly stretching the truth in attacking Senator Barack Obama’s record and positions.

Not only is it strange to refer to McCain’s lying as “stretching the truth,” it’s odd to make the active clause here the fact that McCain “has drawn an avalanche of criticism” for his truth-stretching rather than the fact that McCain is lying. But most of all, there’s no reason the press should treat harsh, negative, accurate attacks as somehow continues with harsh, negative, lies. For example, Barack Obama has often been a supporter of unsound coal liquification schemes. I just put that pretty politely. One could say something harsher and more negative about Obama’s coal record. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Politicians should be harshly criticized for things they do by their political adversaries.

But doling out harsh negative criticism of something a politician actually did is an entirely different can of worms from doling out harsh negative attacks based on lies. The notion that Obama called Sarah Palin a “pig” is a lie — the McCain campaign made it up. It’s not “harsh,” it’s false.