Facts and the Fun House of Lies

Quite a bit about facts and fact checking today.  The saddest point to recognize is that NOBODY like facts — unless they match their own imagined reality. Well some people like facts.  Some, in fact, are devoted to them; their lives depend on them.  Actually, all our lives depend on facts.  Some people know this, and live their lives accordingly.  Others… well let’s say, on the belief-in-facts continuum today’s Republicans, and supporters, are at the far end, temporally and historically.

“We’re not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Neil Newhouse, the Romney campaign’s pollster, said this week during a breakfast discussion at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.,

This cited in an article by Michael Cooper at the NY Times, who often writes about the fantasies being spun as reality in the campaigns.

Brooks Jackson, the director of FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said that at various points this year both sides have blithely gone on repeating statements that were found false.

“They don’t care,” he said, “because it gets votes.” The increasingly disaggregated media ecosystem, the diminished trust in traditional news organizations and the rise of social media had made it easier than ever to inject questionable assertions directly into the media bloodstream — and to rebut them.

But while there is arguably more fact-checking now than ever — and, thanks to the Web, more ways to independently check what candidates and campaigns say — verdicts that a campaign has crossed the line are often drowned out by dissent from its supporters, who take it upon themselves to check the checkers.

Here is Cooper’s quick summary of Paul Ryan’s difficulties with the facts:

One of Mr. Ryan’s most pointed attacks on Mr. Obama was on the deficit. “He created a new bipartisan debt commission,’’ Mr. Ryan noted. “They came back with an urgent report. He thanks them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.”

Left unsaid: Mr. Ryan served on that debt commission, and his opposition to its final proposals helped to seal its fate. The commission, known as the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission, made a number of recommendations that Mr. Ryan ultimately opposed on the grounds that theywould have raised some taxes and failed to cut enough from health programs. His dismissal of the plan was seen as an important blow to its chances of success, since it soured other House Republicans on it.

In his critique of the president’s fiscal stewardship, Mr. Ryan said: “It began with a perfect AAA credit rating for the United States. It ends with the downgraded America.”

When Standard & Poor’s lowered the nation’s credit rating, it was in large part because of the standoff last year over raising the debt ceiling — which had to be raised to pay for spending Congress had already approved. The White House had asked Congress to simply raise the debt ceiling; Mr. Ryan and House Republicans balked at doing so without a deal on significant spending cuts, leading to a prolonged standoff that took the nation to the brink of default.

 Charles Blow also looks at the Ryan speech, and takes it hard:

Honesty is a lost art. Facts are for losers. The truth is dead.

Pick one.  …

There is some degree of mythmaking and truth-stretching in every campaign, but the extent to which Republicans have embraced ignobility in this campaign is astounding. They have used their convention podium to unleash a whole lot of half-truths, so many that fact-checkers have been working overtime. But trying to chase down every lie is like trying to catch every bug in a log. It’s almost impossible.

If the news media has to pour so much energy into fact-checking, which is noble and necessary, I worry that the big picture gets short shrift. The convention itself was shockingly low on vision and high on venom.

Yet the candidates are virtually tied in most polls. What does this portend for the republic? I worry deeply about this, not simply because I work at a newspaper, but because I am an American.

If we allow our leaders to completely abandon any semblance of honesty, what do we have left? When rancid disinformation stands in the space where actual information should be, what will grow?

And how can a party that incessantly repeats the mantra that our rights were granted by God repeatedly violate a basic tenet of almost every religion: truth-telling?


This reminds me a bit of the parlor game played in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, in which each was to tell the worst thing they had ever done — ladies were exempted.  Each comes up with a story of theft, or getting an innocent servant fired, etc, but into which one smuggles some truly worthy thing he had done, another tries to enhance his reputation.  In today’s America the game would be to to confess the biggest lie one has ever told. The winner would be s/he who told the biggest lie about that biggest lie….


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