Ten years in China teaching journalism after 27 years at CBS News, teaching at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, the University of Chicago, and living and working projects in Croatia and Portugal. Life is a trip.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Representative Paul Ryan's speech to the Republican Nominating Convention has many commentators up in arms over playing fast and loose with facts. Amazing. A politician playing fast and loose with facts, and at a moment of highest drama in his political life.
Many columns and commentaries point out that it is SOP. Others suggest a turning point in journalism and politics because there are now the tools to instantly correct factual errors or twists.
The inflated rhetoric of the political season plus the cacophony of so many voices competing for attention has caused a general inflation of reactions. Politicians routinely lie. They always have and it is tempting to say they always will, but "always" like "never" are words best avoided even in science where the weight of evidence is much more convincing than in politics.
My reading of Mr. Ryan was more taken with what I sensed was nervousness and an odd level of verbal discomfort for a man accustomed to campaigns and campaigning. The old-fashioned word is stage fright. He had a bit of stage fright but soldiered on and did his duty.
He had me when he juxtaposed President Obama's promise to save the auto industry and its jobs during his first campaign with what Ryan said was what appeared to be the post-election, post-bailout closing of his hometown GM plant. And I should know better. My antenna should have been up and with the internet at my command I could easily have checked this fact. Damned fool, believing a politician - and its not a party-exclusive trait to bend or mutilate facts, or just lie.
But then I contented myself with the knowledge that Vice Presidential candidate Ryan was not speaking to me. He was energizing his base and bases are often united in their willingness to believe everything good about their leaders and everything bad about their political foes.
The ruckus caused among journalists about "our role" in correcting errors, the range and frequency of comments from citizen commentators is still underway, but it will not last. We will be distracted by Presidential Candidate Romney's "all important" speech, that will be forgotten (unless he makes a mighty gaffe and is bludgeoned with it for the rest of the campaign) when the Democrats have their day next week. In turn both conventions will recede rapidly from attention and memory. The political guns of October will fill the air with salvos of claims and accusations that will reduce Candidate Ryan's fact game to child's play.
Every election cycle is proclaimed to be the dirtiest, the most vicious, the lowest, and the cry of will-it-never-end will be heard around the land. Journalists are the ones who will writing this and saying this, again and again. If we don't know better we should. 20th and 21st century campaigns cannot begin to match the viciousness of the earlier days of the Republic. But then we would have to know history to understand the differences. The partisan nature of some cable channels and certain newspapers is decried as if the craft of news had hit new lows. Not by a long shot. When newspapers circulated by the thousands instead of hundreds of thousands and there was no broadcasting; when politicians went from town to town to deliver themselves of political hyperbole, the lies abounded, but they rarely made it from one town to the next. There were no multipliers to turn a misspeak or an outright lie into a national, if not international, kerfuffle.
The fact is, thus far, this campaign has been notable for only one reason that characterizes every Presidential campaign in the last two decades: increasingly expensive. There's the rot in the system.