Even the press refuses to call a lie a lie
PIERRE TRISTAM, Florida VoicesBY PIERRE TRISTAM, Florida Voices
Published: September 5, 2012
Published: September 5, 2012
While visiting American troops in Korea in 1966, Lyndon Johnson said in a presumably bonding moment that his great-great grandfather had died at the Alamo. It was a lie. The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin asked him why he'd said it. "God damn it," Johnson replied, "why must all those journalists be such sticklers for detail? Why, they'd hold you to an accurate description of the first time you ever made love, expecting you to remember the color of the room and the shape of the windows. That's exactly what happened here.
The fact is that my great-great grandfather died at the Battle of San Jacinto, not at the Alamo." That, too, was a lie. Johnson's ancestor, Goodwin wrote, was a real estate trader. He died at home. In bed.
We've been living with presidential Pinocchio for as long as there's been presidents. Between Richard Nixon's Watergate, Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra contortion, Bill Clinton's affair with the verb "is" and George W. Bush's weapons of mass invention—to name a bare few—the lies of presidents could re-carve Rushmore by audacity alone.
They hoped, often with good reason, that they wouldn't be found out. For when people with eminent titles speak, and wrap their speeches in patriotic blather, journalists are better stenographers than fact-checkers.
But even lazy journalists have no excuse anymore. Between the Tampa Bay Times's PolitiFact.com, the Annenberg Center's FactCheck.org, the Washington Post's Fact Checker, and other similar efforts, fact-checking is now part of the information landscape. Facts are no more difficult to access than the weather forecast, so voters, too, have no excuse for being misinformed.
That's how we found out the Obama campaign lied when it ran ads suggesting Mitt Romney opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest (Romney does not.) Or that, according to a pro-Obama group's ad, Romney was somehow responsible for the death of a steelworker's wife for lack of insurance (there was no connection.)
It's also how we found out that Romney lied, repeatedly, when he claimed verbally and in ads that Obama was ending the work requirement for welfare (he's not.) And that Paul Ryan, his vice-presidential pick, lied serially in his acceptance speech. No need to go through the list. Just follow this link to Factcheck.org.
The Republican National Convention's first day was entirely themed around a glaring lie: that Obama had accused business owners of not having built their own businesses, when what he'd done was remind us of the vast support system that makes success possible in the United States. Still, the lie stuck and is now a campaign theme, because for all the fact-checking a mouse click away, it takes voters' willingness to click away from their prejudices. Prejudice by definition defies evidence.
And the press, that pandering mollusk, gives lies a pass by immunizing them in euphemisms. The Associated Press called Ryan's lies "factual shortcuts." The New York Times diluted the charge with a stab at balance—"Campaigns Play Loose With Truth"—even though the article showed lies to be disproportionately the product of the Romney-Ryan campaign. Reuters didn't even bother including a fact-checking link to its reporting on Ryan's or Romney's convention speeches.
Doubtless the Democrats won't be veracity's patron saint in Charlotte this week. But what Republicans showed us from Tampa is that the age of mere spin, born with the 24-hour news cycle at the dawn of the Reagan era, is over. The age of outright lies is now upon us, ironically coinciding with the democratization of fact-checking, if not its denigration: "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," Neil Newhouse, a Romney campaign aide, said at a breakfast discussion during last week's convention.
Let's not blame only the candidates. Politicians would circumvent God if necessary, as Hamlet reminds us. But it takes voters' complicity to let them circumvent facts.
Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news service based in Palm Coast, Fl.