McCain (and Palin) are setting a record for outright lies. But what is to stop them?
In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration knew something about the media that the media still don’t fully understand about themselves. If you’re in a position of power and you want to say something, just say it, no matter what, and the media will repeat it and repeat it.
Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction to speak of? No matter. Just say he did. He wasn’t six months away from nuclear capability? So what—just assert that he was. He wasn’t tied to 9-11, there was no famous Prague meeting? No problem. Suggest there might have been. Muddy it up. Good enough.
Bush and co. knew that the media are constitutionally unequipped to call a lie a lie. People in the media like to flatter themselves as truth-tellers and the people’s watchdogs and all that, but the fact is that except in very rare circumstances, there’s no such thing as “objective truth” in the media, particularly the political media. There’s just what one side says and what the other side says. This is especially so on cable television.
The Bush people manipulated this. But the McCain campaign has taken it to extremes that make even Dick Cheney look like a wallflower. The number and intensity of outright lies, even for jaded observers, is just staggering.
There’s Sarah Palin’s lies about the bridge and earmarks. There’s an unbelievable one I mentioned yesterday about Obama’s alleged opposition to combat systems. There’s the flatly false assertion to middle-class audiences that Obama will raise their taxes, even though his tax plan does no such thing.
Now there’s this incredible McCain education ad that tries to argue that Obama wants to pervert kindergartners. The legislation, in Illinois, was in fact designed to allow local school boards to teach “age appropriate” sex education – and to teach children about how to identify sexual predators!
And then there’s this silly pig-lipstick business, which I wouldn’t even dignify by mentioning except that, obvious as it was that Obama was talking about McCain and not Palin, the McCain camp has now created something called the “Palin Truth Squad” that was formed to push the lie that Obama was talking about Palin. I’ll say that again: a “truth squad” created for the express purpose of pushing a lie.
And where is the truth squad of the press, the people’s watchdogs? Mostly enjoying the show, hyping the “mudslinging” between the two sides, which of course “both sides” are guilty of. Nonsense. Obama and Biden distort certain things about McCain’s record – that whole 100 years in Iraq business is a stretch. But McCain did say it, so it’s only a stretch, not a fabrication.
McCain and Palin are engaged in serial total fabrications. And almost no one calls them on it. The New York Times, which found the space to run a puffy piece on Palin’s family on its front page the other day, hasn’t found similar space to run a story under a headline like, “McCain-Palin Claims Stretch Credulity, Some Say.”
CBS and CNN have finally gotten around to running reports that pretty much state outright that Palin is lying about the bridge. ABC’s Jake Tapper plainly called out the “truth squad” on the lipstick story. McClatchy did a strong fact-check of the McCain education ad. But for the most part, the media treats it all as entertainment, a matter of which side has seized the offensive.
The McCain team knows all this. So they consciously promote lies, knowing that no real mechanism exists to stop them from doing so.
The Obama team should have been doing a stronger job of push-back these last few days. It was only after Obama himself said Palin was lying about the bridge that a few media outlets started pursuing that angle. That’s how the game is played, and the McCain strategy will be a test of their ability to hit back fast and hard.
But this race is now a test of the media too. You’d think after being told in the run-up to the Iraq war a bushel of things that didn’t end up being true that they printed anyway, they’d have given some thought to the question of how not to let themselves be manipulated like that again. But it is happening again, and the media are getting played in exactly the same way.
And what does all this say about John McCain? In 2000, when he was running against George Bush in the South Carolina primary, he was smeared by outright lies charging among other things that he’d fathered an out-of-wedlock black child. The man who “directed communications” for Bush’s 2000 South Carolina effort was Tucker Eskew. McCain confidants have long held Eskew partly responsible for those smears.
Last week, McCain hired him, to staff up Palin. That just about says all we need to know about today’s McCain.
Now let me ask you. What is more revealing of a candidate’s “character”: The fact that a candidate used a phrase as old as the hills, a phrase the other candidate himself has used (see Jake Tapper above), or the fact that a candidate would hire someone he once regarded as having helped spread vile innuendo about him and his family?
Deeper and deeper we go into the hall of mirrors…