Does the Lie in Mitt Romney’s TV Ad Matter?

Huffington Post reporter Jon Ward did what reporters should do when covering political campaign ads. He told readers, at the top of his story, that the new Mitt Romney ad was based on a lie:

The 60-second Romney ad quoted Obama as saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

It sounds like Obama is talking about his own chances in 2012. But it’s actually a clip of Obama mocking his 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), for not wanting to talk about the economy in the final stretch of that election. McCain’s response to the collapse of the financial sector in the fall of 2008 is widely cited as a contributing factor to his loss.

That’s a pretty astounding bit of deception. It’s good that Ward is doing this, because when I read about the Romney ad in this morning’s New York Times, I saw a headline that read, “Romney Heats Up Campaign in New Hampshire With an Ad Attacking Obama.”

The Times‘ Ashley Parker wrote that the Romney campaign was heading into “a more combative phase,” and that the commercial represented “a step up in the intensity of the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.”

The ad actually projects strength, according to the paper:

By focusing his message on the president, Mr. Romney is trying to show Republicans that he can take on Mr. Obama aggressively, an attribute that conservatives are seeking in a nominee.

To be fair, Parker does have a piece on the Times website today that discusses the ad’s inaccuracy. We’ll see if there’s something in the paper tomorrow.

But for some reporters the inaccuracy of the ad doesn’t amount to much. At the Washington Post, Aaron Blake’s piece explains the context of the quote, but then seems determined to argue that it’s not going to matter:

And how many of Romney’s supporters or other Republicans are going to be truly offended by the use of an out-of-context quote in an ad? We’re wagering not many. In fact, Romney’s willingness to take Obama on so directly–no matter the means of doing so–will likely accrue to his benefit among GOP primary voters who want a fighter next fall.

It’s also worth noting that a lack of context in a campaign ad is nothing new. Just last week, in fact, GOP candidates including Romney mischaracterized Obama’s quote about how America had been “lazy” about attracting foreign investment, by suggesting that Obama was calling all Americans “lazy.” (Texas Gov. Rick Perry even ran an ad based on this premise.) And the furor over that lasted all of two seconds.

Going from a political press that doesn’t care about factchecking candidates to one that believes factchecking doesn’t really matter is not exactly progress. Or is this just the rule that’s applied to Republican presidential candidates?

UPDATE: It’s worth noting that ABC‘s Jake Tapper slammed the ad on Twitter, and did a report on World News saying that the ad is “so out of context it’s false.”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.