I could comment on a number of incidents and events at the just finished Republican Convention, but I don’t think most of it holds much significance in the grand scheme of things election-wise, If I’m wrong I’ll get back to it later. However, I do want to say something about the Paul Ryan speech Wednesday evening and the media reaction because it relates to the central issue this blog is concerned with which, in case I’ve confused you, I’ll reiterate: “….this blog is about becoming an informed citizen in the age of misinformation (as stated in my HEY! page above).
We’ll get to Ryan vs. the media in a moment, but in terms of “post truth politics” (*1) more significant than Ryan’s speech was what Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at an ABC News/Yahoo panel in Tampa on Tuesday. His comments regarded an ad accusing Obama of cutting the work requirement in welfare. This attack ad was harshly criticized by several media fact checkers, but that didn’t phase Newhouse. According to the Huffington Post he said ” that the campaign doesn’t care its ad attacking Obama’s waiver policy on welfare has been labeled false by several media outlets.”
As Newhouse elaborated: “We stand behind those ads and behind the facts in those ads…. And you know what? What these fact-checkers — fact-checkers come to this with, you know, their own sets of, you know, thoughts and — and beliefs. And you know what? We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
Of course, what he’s saying is the fact checkers are all too liberal to be believed- i.e. the enemy – so if we Republicans think some talking point is true, we’ll go with it (or more cynically, if we think we can convince others it’s true, we’ll keep going with it). In other words, a research tradition “sifting and winnowing” in search of truth going back centuries was just cut off at the knees when it comes to politics. In terms of the notion of post-truth politics, Newhouse has crossed the Rubicon into no-truth politics.
In other words, we have entered the wild, wild west of political knowledge and thought. There are no sheriffs or judges we can rely on to referee accusations, no honest brokers, arbiters with sufficient impartiality to make a judgement worth listening to. All of that is implied in what Newhouse said. One thing he neglected to say is that the Republicans themselves have referred to those same fact checkers when it has suited their purposes, in the primaries and in the general election.
Now to Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday evening that got media fact checkers buzzing around like hornets trying to sting him with accusations of falsehoods. It is just a guess, but perhaps the checkers were even more vigilent than usual after Newhouse called them irrelevant the day before. In a Huff-Po piece Michael Calderone captures the gist of this fight nicely, including several links for those who want to delve deeper into yet another issue that could require a book to really sort out. For the truly obsessive, you will find additional sources by Googling: Fact checking Paul Ryan’s speech.
Here’s a couple of things to keep in mind if you wish to explore the issue further. Most of the media opinion sides with the idea that Ryan took liberties with facts and made misleading statements in his speech. The handful defending his speech are on the political right and their defenses tend to be narrow ones, meaning they defend him from charges he “lied” at various times. I would say they are often right literally, but wrong figuratively. He may not have lied strictly speaking as often charged, but he was often misleading enough to have the same impact.
Ah, but I’m spending too much time parsing this issue of truth when the real issue between now and Nov 6 is whether either side can sway enough voters to dislike or fear the other candidate more than their own.
So, truth be damned! The operative rule is: Say anything………………………And if it works say it again.
(*1) Maybe Paul Krugman came up with “post truth politics” as he used the term in an editorial last December. There he attacked the Republicans for their distortions, but I would say the Democrats have come to match them on occasion since then. And they still have time to catch up.