There’s been a sudden flurry of discussion centering around the specific topic that is this blog’s raison d’etre, so I wanted to mention it.
The Obama campaign started running this attack ad today, in which they actually use the “L” word to describe McCain/Palin’s pushing of the Bridge to Nowhere lie:
And this raises a really interesting question: How is the media going to handle this? Are they going to report the factual truth (that McCain and Palin are flat-out lying, and in a way that has been demonstrated to be a lie)? Or are they going to report it as just another controversy between two sides?
It kind of matters. McCain/Palin are making an explicit strategy out of selling a version of their biographies that, at least in her case, is directly contradicted by the facts. (The version of McCain’s biography they’re trying to sell is also dishonest and false-to-fact, but in a less stark way than Palin’s.) See this item in the Washington Post, for example: McCain, Palin push biography, not issues.
Steve Benen had a really interesting write-up of some back-and-forth that happened on CNN about this (Making a story “stick”):
Roberts wrapped up the segment, concluding, “We still have 56 days to talk about this back and forth.”
But therein lies the point. The nation doesn’t need 56 days of “back and forth.” We don’t need 56 seconds of “back and forth.” There’s an objective truth here, and CNN, as a neutral, independent news source, is supposed to tell viewers what the facts are.
But CNN can’t do that, because reality has a well known liberal bias. If Roberts conceded that Begala was telling the truth about demonstrable facts, then he’d be “taking sides.” For a media figure to acknowledge that a candidate for national office is lying shamelessly would be wholly unacceptable — it would break with the “balance” between competing arguments.
The viewer at home hears one side, then the other. Who’s right? That’s not CNN’s problem.
Glenn Greenwald chimed in today on a dispute between Marc Ambinder and Matt Yglesias involving the media’s handling of the Bridge to Nowhwere story, where Ambinder wrote:
To move to a Greenwaldian debate about the duties, obligations and frustrations of the press — well — read elsewhere if you want to play that game. I’ll abstain.
But Ambinder, who writes for The Atlantic, is a professional journalist, and as Greenwald points out, he does have an obligation to report that blatant lies are, in fact, blatant lies. That journalists have been increasingly willing to be played by liars lately, that they’ve reached the point where they now feel at liberty to mock, as Ambinder does, the idea that they have a duty to report the truth as they know it, is really quite significant, it seems to me.
Kevin Drum, in A bridge to somewhere, had this to say:
And not to get too sanctimonious about this, but this really is a test of some kind for the press. This lie is unusually egregious given the plain facts of the situation (Palin was eagerly supportive of the bridge until after Congress pulled the earmark, at which point she reluctantly decided to take the money but use it for other projects), and if the media allows the McCain campaign to get away with this – if they relegate it to occasional closing paragraphs and page A9 fact checks – well, that means McCain knows he can pretty much get away with anything. The press will be writing its own declaration of irrelevance.
I think that hits it on the head. If the mainstream news media aren’t going to tell the truth about this (I don’t mean the Fox News-style media here, but the real media), then it will mean a fundamental change in the nature of the relationship between them and me.