So now it’s “game on.” No more lie and let live. The Republicans more or less announced, then displayed, yesterday that they will officially not be bound to facts or even the attempt to stay in the same area code. They won’t give a damn what the media’s first line of defense—those much-heralded “fact check” sites—have to say. So now: Will reporters and editors correct lies right in their news stories as they go along and not simply leave it to the (defanged) fact-check projects?
This has been builiding for quite awhile. We could go back to the birth of Fox News, of course, or the Swift Boat campaign or well before all that. But in the past month, as I have chronicled here, the facts-be-damned approach has really exploded, with the GOP and their PAC allies claim about Obama and You Didn’t Build That (a phrase wrenched completely out of context) and then the charge that he had removed the work requirement from welfare (completely false, yet endlessly repeated). And more, roundly criticized by all of the independent fact-checkers.
Yesterday Ben Smith of Buzzfeed reported that Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at a breakfast meeting at the GOP convention, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” The fact-checkers, he added, had “jumped the shark.” National Review chimed in with the same opinion. No matter that its candidate for president recently denounced the Obama camp for running ads that had been hit (though not as hard) by some of the same fact-checkers and suggested they be pulled from the air.
Later yesterday we then watched almost the entire GOP convention primetime program built around the You Didn’t Build That lie. And Rick Santorum was called on to deliver, if briefly, the lie about Obama “gutting” welfare. The New York Times quickly posted an editorial chronicling the untruths.
All of this was too much even for former chief New York Times editor Bill Keller, who noted at his blog that the GOP was now going well beyond the usual campaign “distortion” and “oppo jiu-jitsu,” asking: “But why stop there? Why not go whole hog and just make stuff up?”
As often the case, Charles P. Pierce, at his Esquire blog (he is in Tampa), expressed the most apt outrage in reviewing the entire evening, calling the whole evening one big “demonstrable lie.” He closes with just one eloquent word: “Liars.” I suggest you read it all, but here’s an excerpt:
“And there was only one real story for actual journalists to tell at the end of it. The Republicans simply don’t care.
“They don’t care that they lie. They don’t care that their lies are obvious. They don’t care that their lies wouldn’t fool an underpaid substitute Social Studies teacher in a public middle school, who would then probably go out one night and get yelled at by Chris Christie. They don’t care that their history is a lie and that, by spreading it, they devalue the actual history of the country, which is something that belongs to us….
“They don’t care that they lie so obviously that they always get caught, like they did with the evening’s entire theme, like they have in and around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, or with the story of poor Jack Gilchrist. The Republicans will just tell the lie again. And again. And once more, until people get tired of telling the truth in response.”
This latter point, of course, is key: Will the media get tired? As I’ve said, the only proper response is for many reporters to reject what Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere” and actively fact-check—and/or omit false charges—in their “straight” news stories, as they go along. When GOPers—or Democrats, for that matter—then complain that key points are not getting covered, the editors can then respond, “We are not printing your lies.” End of story. Literally. (UPDATE: As if in response to this plea, L.A. Times on its site calls out Santorum "lie" right in a headline. Will they do it in print?)
James Bennet at The Atlantic puts it this way: “Instead of being able to stand above the fray as some sort of neutral arbiter of the truth, the press may be finding that it is winding up on one side of a new kind of he-said-she-said argument.”
Rosen himself responded to the revealing screw-you statement by the Romney pollster yesterday: “Professional journalists, whose self-image starts with: ‘We’re a check on’ have to decide what to do about the truck that just ran their checkpoint, carrying the brain trust of the Romney campaign, who are inside laughing at how easy it all was.”
Greg Mitchell’s books and e-books on influential American campaigns include Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady, The Campaign of the Century (on Upton Sinclair’s 1934 race) and Why Obama Won. He also blogs daily at Pressing Issues.