How Do We Stop The Lying?

Wow. They just don’t give a damn:

“Our most effective ad is our welfare ad,” a top television advertising strategist for Romney, Ashley O’Connor, said at a forum Tuesday hosted by ABCNews and Yahoo! News. “It’s new information.”…

The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” awarded Romney’s ad “four Pinocchios,” a measure Romney pollster Neil Newhouse dismissed.

“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” he said.

I’m old enough to remember the days when right wingers used to bemoan post-modernism as the ultimate destruction of Western civilization. When they held forth for hours about the despicable evasiveness of Bill Clinton’s “depends on what the definition of “is” is.” Looks like those days are gone.

This explanation is apparently widely held among true believers on the right — that the fact checkers are biased. In that NPR report I wrote about last week, these people were asked about the welfare ads:

“We think that the fact that the work requirement has been taken out of welfare is the wrong thing to do,” said Peggy Testa, attending a Tuesday rally near Pittsburgh for Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan.

When told that’s not actually what had happened, Testa replied: “At this point, [I] don’t know exactly what is true and what isn’t, OK? But what I do know is I trust the Romney-Ryan ticket, and I do not trust Obama.”

Another Romney supporter at the Ryan rally said it’s really tough to know what’s true anymore.

“I think we always have to look at who the fact checkers are,” Ken Mohn said. “There’s lots of … groups that purport themselves to be neutral, nonpartisan, but often are [partisan].”

I think much of this is the Fox effect. It’s very easy for people to believe this when they have an ostensibly respectable “news” source that validates all their biases. When you add in talk radio, which is just one lie after after another, you have the ability to live entirely in a world where any facts that don’t comport with your desired narrative can be chalked up to partisan bias.

Jay Rosen tackles this question on Press Think today and it appears that the media is pretty much stymied about what to do about it. He reports that Michael Sherer at Time Magazine thinks we should all “call out our own” because only then will these people stop. And if it weren’t for the fact that the right has built an entire industry to do the opposite, it might even work. That’s about it. Nobody else has any answers.

People don’t know what to believe so they believe their team. Maybe there’s nothing to be done about that. The Enlightenment is no longer operative. When the very idea of demonstrable reality is abandoned all you have left is authority. And I’m guessing their authority is bigger than our authority. It’s not a happy thought.

For those of you who are still interested in keeping a grip on reality, I highly recommend this piece by Thomas Edsall in the NY Times about Romney’s strategy, which shows that it’s purely designed to gin up resentment among the elderly and working class whites — their only growing demographic. He concludes with this:

On the trail, Paul Ryan argues that “we’re going to make this about ideas. We’re going to make this about a positive vision for the future.” On television and the Internet, however, the Romney campaign is clearly determined “to make this about” race, in the tradition of the notorious 1988 Republican Willie Horton ad, which described the rape of a white woman by a convicted African-American murderer released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison during the gubernatorial administration of Michael Dukakis and Jesse Helms’s equally infamous “White Hands” commercial, which depicted a white job applicant who “needed that job” but was rejected because “they had to give it to a minority.”

The longer campaigns go on, the nastier they get. Once unthinkable methods become conventional.

“You can tell they” — the welfare ads— “are landing punches,” Steven Law, president of the Republican super PAC American Crossroads, told the Wall Street Journal. Law’s focus group and polling research suggest that the theme is not necessarily going to work. “The economy is so lousy for middle-income Americans that the same people who chafe at the rise of welfare dependency under Obama don’t automatically default to a ‘get-a-job’ attitude — because they know there are no jobs.”

As the head of a tax-exempt 501(c)4 independent expenditure committee, Law cannot coordinate campaign strategy directly with the Romney campaign. Nonetheless, he is sending a warning. The welfare theme, Law said, “needs to be done sensitively. Right now it may be more of an economic issue than a values issue: In other words, more people on welfare is another disturbing symptom of Obama’s broken-down economy, rather than an indictment of those who are on welfare or the culture as a whole.”

Will the Romney campaign heed Law’s advice to keep it subtle? The principal media consultant for the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which will be running many of the anti-Obama ads over the next ten weeks, is Larry McCarthy, who produced the original Willie Horton ad.

I think there is one thing that might be helpful in changing this: dogging the reputations of people who do it. Romney will not want to be publicly shunned for this behavior or relegated to the wingnut corner of the world when this is all over. But he should be. No one should ever write another word about him without mentioning his dishonest, racist ad campaign of 2012. It should be hung around him like 500 pound albatross so that people understand that you can do this if you want, but you will never escape it.

A lot of them won’t care. But some will. People are motivated by a lot of things in life, but once they reach this level of success, they care about their legacy as much as anything. Romney has sealed his as the heir to Jesse Helms.

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