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Media Shocker: MSM Discovers the Death of Truth

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Loyal Calbuzzers know that we started ranting about the Death of Truth in politics – and the ability of candidates with enough money to ignore the nattering nabobs of negativism in the news media — more than two years ago. So it was refreshing to see the front-page story in the New York Times by Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg, declaring:

The Romney campaign is airing an advertisement falsely charging that Mr. Obama has “quietly announced” plans to eliminate work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries, a message Mr. Romney’s aides said resonates with working-class voters who see government as doing nothing for them.

As James Fallows at the Atlantic noted, it is an “important step” when reporters – not just commentators — in the MSM are willing to state unequivocally that something a candidate or campaign is saying is simply false. Without qualifications or attributions or detailing some bogus false equivalency.

Our analysis of why Romney is continuing to use this false charge is a bit less generous than the rationale suggested by Zeleny and Rutenberg. Romney’s campaign — which his pollster Neil Newhouse said won’t “be dictated by fact checkers” — is seeking votes from suburban and working-class whites who still can be made to believe in welfare queens and shiftless street-corner food-stamp swindlers by blowing a racial dog whistle.

But the New York Times (and some other MSM outlets) deserve credit for stepping up and beginning to cut through the bullshit and outright falsehoods that Romney tells about 10 times more than Barack Obama does (according to PolitiFact). The same can’t be said for toadies like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer who suggested he’d have to defer to the fact checkers to tell viewers whether Romney and Paul Ryan were twisting the truth.

It started with eMeg: Of course, Ryan’s convention speech was so dishonest, even Fox News contributor Sally Kohn declared that, “Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.” (Speaking of running, Ryan’s self-proclaimed sub-three-hour marathon, debunked by that known left-liberal rag Runner’s World, only burnished his reputation as “Lyin’ Ryan.”)

We’re also delighted that NYU’s Jay Rosen, the Atlantic’s James Bennett and others have begun to address an issue that Calbuzz has long seethed about — starting with Meg Whitman’s 2010 campaign for governor, which has served as a kind of template for her crony Mittens — and more recently detailed in the 2012 presidential campaign. But it truly is a concern that campaigns (with the help of Super PACs) do not appear to be suffering consequences from telling lies over and over and over again.

As we argued before: “Perhaps it’s just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.”

With the rise of the internets as the preferred method of exploring the news, voters seem no longer to know where they can go to discover the actual truth. Or perhaps they no longer care. We all should worry that in today’s political world, ideology and bias seem to trump fact and reason.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” the Romney campaign argues. But unlike Dorothy, the Tin Man and Scarecrow, voters appear not to be shocked to learn that characters like Romney and Ryan are frauds of the first water.

Crooks, liars and civic morality: It was Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels who is said to have famously argued, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” Which is not to say all liars are fascists. But the notion of repeating a lie until it becomes an accepted idea is, at least, antithetical to our collective concept of civic morality. “How can they get away with that?” we ask, as if the Ninth Commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”) had relevance in today’s politics.

Lots of people — even though they think all politicians are crooks and liars — just can’t believe someone would go on national TV and just make shit up. But they do. All the time.

As Paul Krugman of the NYT notes, this election is  “a test of how far politicians can bend the truth . . .  the first time one of our major parties has run a campaign so completely fraudulent, making claims so at odds with the reality of its policy proposals.”

Which is why the news media have no choice but to take a stand on the side of truth. In the news columns. They can no longer allow their dedication to “neutrality” to be manipulated by those who care not a wit for the actual facts.

This might or might not matter to voters, who are being overloaded with falsehoods in pursuit of a presidency. But on one particular measure – likeability – which is a catch-all for how voters feel about the candidates, Obama still leads Romney 47-32% in polling by Ipsos Public Affairs and Reuters.

Perhaps – just perhaps – if candidates find that gaining a reputation for lying undermines their likeability among voters, they’ll cut the crap.

We’re not betting on it.