Last night, I considered firing up my Commodore 64 (yes, that’s what I use, what else is out there?) and documenting all the lies in Paul Ryan’s RNC convention speech. I could join TPM and The New Republic and The Daily Beast and Huffington Post and Wonkbook and probably half a dozen more. I could tell you about Ryan criticizing President Obama for a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville that closed during the Bush Administration. I could tell you about Ryan criticizing the President for not endorsing Simpson-Bowles when he voted against it and led his group of House Republicans on the commission to do the same. I could tell you about Ryan criticizing the President for $716 billion in Medicare cuts when his budget includes them as well. I could tell you about Ryan criticizing the President for a downgrade in the credit rating after the debt limit fight, when not only House Republicans had a role in that matter, but Paul Ryan actually suggested that a debt default for a few days wouldn’t be a big deal. I could tell you that Ryan talked about the moral obligation to protect the weak when 2/3 of the cuts in his budget would hit the poor, including a massive cut to Medicaid, the health care lifeline for the poor. And on and on.
But here’s the thing. I’m not sure it matters. Even though this speech contained enough demonstrable lies to make Paul Ryan the second coming of Al Gore (UPDATE: in terms of how the media portrayed Gore, not his actual nature, let me make clear), here’s how CNN covered it in the immediate aftermath:
Blitzer: So there he is, the republican vice presidential nominee and his beautiful family there. His mom is up there. This is exactly what this crowd of republicans here certainly republicans all across the country were hoping for. He delivered a powerful speech. Erin, a powerful speech. Although I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will. As far as mitt romney’s campaign is concerned, paul ryan on this night delivered.
Burnett: That’s right. Certainly so. We were jotting down points. There will be issues with some of the facts. But it motivated people. He’s a man who says I care deeply about every single word. I want to do a good job. And he delivered on that. Precise, clear, and passionate.
We live in a time when the media literally thinks it’s a separate job to separate true from false in reporting on national political figures. They think their main job is theater criticism. Read “Paul Ryan Accepts Republican Vice-Presidential Nomination”, the lead story by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times today, and it’s just a rote regurgitation of what Ryan said, faithfully captured. This is how most campaign speeches are covered.
Sure, there are pieces out there you can read to debunk the speech. But they’re confined to partisan media, or the partisan parts of more traditional media offerings. The Washington Post editorial board surprised a bit by calling the speech “definitely misleading,” but that’s in the opinion section. It’s just their opinion.
For all the ink spilled on the lies in the Ryan speech, I’m sure there will be just as many debunking the debunkers, from partisan media and the partisans at more traditional media outlets on the other side. Then it becomes a food fight, and without a neutral arbiter – with what sadly passes for neutral arbitration relegated to theater criticism – the whole thing becomes a matter of opinion. In polarized America, there are no trusted sources for news, and so lying becomes commonplace.
It’s not like any politician is squeaky clean when it comes to telling the truth. I could document demonstrable lies all next week at the DNC and not have enough time in the day, I suspect. Politicians engage in casual lies; they call it “spinning.” But this is something a bit different in our politics. It’s a convention and a political campaign, in many respects, based on demonstrable lies. It’s based on truncated, out-of-context quotes, and misinterpretations of welfare waivers, and “cuts” to Medicare that are actually savings to the Medicare trust fund. For all the talk of ideology, Ryan’s main complaints last night with the President were that he didn’t spend enough on the auto bailout to save the Janesville plant and he doesn’t spend enough money on Medicare.
But I don’t see where this matters. I saw the moment on MSNBC where Scott Walker was confronted by Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz on the Janesville GM plant lie, and he just stuck out his dead doll eyes and plowed ahead. And that’s probably the only time in the next two months that Scott Walker will even have to SPEAK to someone not already convinced of his propriety.
This ought to represent a crisis for the media. But I don’t think it will.