In this brave new world of instant media gratification, fact checking has separated itself from conventional journalism, since time is required to check facts. Through the two national political conventions, the morning after each speech has been followed by a barrage of asterisks from PolitiFact, FactCheck, and other independent organizations. Now, like the conventional media, their work is getting political.
Trying to see if a politician is telling the truth should seem like a straightforward, non-partisan thing, but that’s tough for a party that lies so much to accept.
Republican demigod Ronald Reagan once said that “facts are stupid things,” and his party proved that at their convention last week. A quick Internet search will turn up thorough dissections of each speech, showing where each candidate was less than truthful.
How does a political party respond when it is caught with its pants on fire? Blame the fact checkers! In an interview on the Colbert Report earlier this week, CNN Contributing Editor Reihan Salam tried to take some of the heat off his fellow conservatives.
“I think that people are being obtuse,” Salam said. He said the issue was not whether Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan lied about the closing of car factory or whether he voted for Simpson-Bowles, but that both parties were making claims about lying to distract people from the issues.
“When people hear something that sounds vague, seems like it’s ill defined, they don’t say “Oh, that must be what he meant,” rather, they say, “Let’s define it as narrowly as possible as a lie, rather than have a real conversation about what we’re saying,’” Salam said.
While it’s true that reality is rarely black-and-white, and that political parties deserve to emphasize certain (factual) points to make their candidates’ case at their own conventions, some things are simply false. Salam defended Ryan’s claim that the plant in Janesville, Wisconsin closed during the Obama administration, saying it had only been mothballed in 2008 due to low demand for SUVs, not fully closed. Who’s being obtuse now?
That is a distinction without a difference. The plant was still closed: it was not producing cars, and its employees were out of work. In addition, if the reason for the shut down really was lack of demand for SUVs, then Obama cannot be blamed for it. The President may be the most powerful man in the free world, but he can’t stop poor product planning.
One person’s views do not always represent those of an entire political party or movement (Salam could’ve also been kidding, I suppose), and I hope this isn’t how conservatives plan to deal with their leaders’ penchant for stretching the truth.
If given the opportunity, politicians will endlessly stretch the truth until it’s nothing but Orwellian doublespeak. People get frustrated by political lies, but the media gives them an opportunity to see through those lies. If someone doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth, that shouldn’t be everyone else’s problem.