Richard Cohen on Candidate Lying Is Half-Baked–and Half Cribbed

Richard Cohen says he envies people who are persuasive liars. He really ought to envy people who are persuasive writers.

His column today (4/17/12) is ostensibly about how Mitt Romney is a big liar. It goes almost its entire length, though, before citing any compelling examples of Romney lying. (Cohen does say call Romney’s claim “rubbish” that he doesn’t watch the ads his Super PAC supporters make to attack his opponents–but is it really so hard to believe that a candidate might choose to remain strategically ignorant about such spots?)

At the end, he points out that Romney claims Obama is an enemy of the Second Amendment–which isn’t true, but is absolutely standard Republican rhetoric. He also chides Romney for changing his ideological stripes–a trait Cohen has previously touted as one of Romney’s great strengths.

In between, of course, Cohen needs to point out that Obama is a liar too–or, as Cohen puts it, “does indeed sometimes play politics with the truth.” While that’s undeniable, Cohen’s examples here too are utterly unconvincing–and both borrowed from George Will, which is a mark of some kind of desperation. First up is this:

The president’s recent attack on Ryan’s new budget proposal sent countless critics scurrying to their thesauruses for ways to say lie–“comprehensively misrepresenting” is the way George F. Will put it.

If you follow that link, you find that Will’s complete argument for Obama misrepresenting Ryan’s budget is…a link to Ryan’s Facebook page. There you’ll find devastating rebuttals like this one:

  • CLAIM: The Path to Prosperity’s Medicaid reforms would “take away healthcare for about 19 million Americans–19 million.”
  • REALITY: 19 million is about the number of Americans forced into Medicaid by the president’s new healthcare law–so the president is just using a novel way of saying that we oppose his healthcare takeover and propose to repeal it.

And then, in an uncredited swipe from Will, Cohen scolds Obama for saying “that a Supreme Court reversal of his healthcare law would be unprecedented.” This is an echo of that same Will column, which charged that Obama “surely knows he was absurd when he said last Monday, regarding Obamacare, that it would be ‘unprecedented’ for the Supreme Court to overturn a ‘passed law.'”

That “passed law” phrase comes from Obama saying, “I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint–that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” In other words, according to Obama, judges overturning a “passed law” is something that conservatives have frequently complained about.

It’s not that it’s hard to find examples of either Romney or Obama lying–including Obama lying about himself, which is the category that supposedly distinguishes the two candidates. But if Cohen is going to rely on George Will to do his research for him, there’s no way to avoid the old computing rule: garbage in, garbage out.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.