Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pants on Fire

One of the overarching questions of this campaign is how our nation's national political press, not exactly known for in-depth explorations of actual national issues, and certainly not known for their skills at reporting the actual facts of those issues, as opposed to which politicians are making which claims on which days about those issues, would react to it. This may be the first modern campaign to be premised quite so explicitly on truthiness, the Colbertian notion that what sounds true is an absolutely more valid political sentiment than what actually is true; that, in turn, would seem to render the entire point of the national press obsolete.
Why bother reporting at all, if each person can simply make up their own reality at will, assert it to be true, believe it to be true, and act upon it as if it were true? If the entire premise of informed democracy be separated from reality and rendered into a contest of pure propaganda, it seems a thin democracy indeed; if the point of the press is not to prevent such an outcome, but assist it, then they are not much more than an outlet for free-of-charge campaign advertisement.
The superlative example (at least so far: God help us, I am certain there will be more) would be the entire premise of the Republican National Convention: We built that. That this soundbite is manufactured from a doctored quote is not in dispute. The same doctored quote—a ragged, James O'Keefe style editing of a presidential speech crafted explicitly to mislead listeners into thinking something was said that was not actually said—was played multiple times during the convention itself. It was known to be false; the origins of the edits were known as well; the media had already pointed out, albeit to little effect, that the quote was doctored; it was made the central talking point of a national political convention anyway, and with staff assertions that the campaign was not going to be "dictated to" by fact-checkers, ergo, by the actual facts.

This is a damn important thing, if you are one of those poor souls that believe an uninformed populace cannot possibly produce an informed democracy. We have never been strong at calling out political liars—we seem to have resigned ourselves to the notion that a high degree of crookedness is an all-but-necessary part of the system, part and parcel of the sorts of bastards that are attracted to it—but even the most brazen of political liars usually thought, at least, that getting caught in those lies might be an embarrassing or negative thing.
But how would the press respond to a flat lie, told so baldly? Again, they are not known for their competence on these things. An article pointing out that so-and-so is lying through their teeth about such-and-such can hinder future reportorial access, true, but more to the point is whether there is really anything the press could do if a brazen liar was unintimidated by the notion of a dozen, or a hundred, or a thousand reporters calling him a liar. And even more to the point: Is there any reportorial stomach to even try?
Our press corps loves reporting on political races; political ideas, less so. The cornerstone of political reporting is reporting about what the various candidates are saying and doing, interspersed with a light analysis of whether those sayings and doings will be "effective". Whether those sayings and doings make one grain of sense is almost never of particular concern.
If a candidate supposes that a certain tax cut will actually result in more taxes, not less, it is not considered a necessary reportorial step to observe whether the exact same thing done in the exact same way, in the past, did or did not have that effect.
If a candidate declares that one candidate engaged in an overseas "apology tour", the news is that he claimed it; going back in the record to see if any such thing ever happened, or if anything even close to said thing happened, is not considered reporting. It is considered fact-checking, an entirely different profession, delegated to an entirely different section of the media.
Again: the fact-checking and the political reporting are treated as two separate things. The latter do not consider the former to be true reporters. On the political farm, the fact-checkers are confined to the little shed out back, while the pundits happily free range around the rest of the landscape. Reporters want to be pundits, not fact-checkers. Pundits consider themselves reporters, not fact-checkers. Editorial pages consider themselves arbiters only of which pundits get to claim things, and the fact-checkers are kept very far away indeed, lest they dull up the prose and premises of the connected.

Go to Daily Kos to read the rest of the story.

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