"What if it turns out that when the press calls a lie a lie, nobody cares?"
That's the question asked by Atlantic editor-in-chief James Bennet (8/28/12) after a raft of Pinocchios and flaming pants failed to sway the Romney campaign from its position that "we're not going to let our campaign be dictated by factcheckers."
I think that's the wrong question, though. The real question is: Does the press have the courage to call a lie a lie–and stick by it?
It's hard to be hopeful about that when you have one of the media's most prominent factcheckers, the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler (9/1/12), explicitly downplaying the importance of honesty in politics. Under the headline "The Truth? C'mon, This Is a Political Convention," Kessler wrote:
For all the outrage (on the left) about misrepresentations and misinformation in Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech accepting the Republican nomination for vice president, my reaction was: par for the course.
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We are, of course, talking about a political convention. The whole point is for the party to put its best foot forward to the American people. By its very nature, that means downplaying unpleasant facts, highlighting the positive and knocking down the opposing team.
Kessler maintained that until Ryan's speech, his "impression was that…the Republicans were generally on good behavior"–despite the fact that the first night was "devoted to the political exploitation of a single Obama gaffe–'You didn’t build that'–the Republicans blatantly misrepresent…with virtually every speaker making reference to it." That's an awfully low standard for good behavior!
Kessler excused the mendacity of Ryan's speech on the grounds that it wasn't as deceptive as the speech Sen. Zell Miller gave at the 2004 RNC–a speech that was lavishly praised at the time for its effectiveness. Kessler gave Romney credit for comparative honesty as well: "He repeated some claims that have earned him Four Pinocchios (such as Obama going on an 'apology tour' overseas) but he passed up many others."
Are you beginning to see why politicians are not particularly afraid of factcheckers?