Ryan’s Lies… I Mean, His ‘Overreaches’

Paul Ryan’s RNC convention speech kicked off a lot of discussion about how and when journalists should do factchecking. Some reporters noted that, for instance, the people you factcheck can push back; other pieces wondered if it was making any difference at all. There are plenty of factchecking operations, but there seems to be a feeling that the lying and deception is more significant now than it’s ever been.

But if you watched TV coverage of the Republican convention, you may not have seen much in the way of factchecking. More to the point, some of the discussions could get a little, well, foggy.

Take NBC veteran Tom Brokaw, speaking on a Meet the Press roundtable (9/2/12) about Ryan:

One of the problems I have…  was that for example, Congressman Ryan overreached a couple of times and got caught in those overreaches.  The Janesville plant, for example, which was closed in ’08, they ended up blaming it on President Obama.

And the cuts in Medicare, which were very similar to what he had in mind, taking on the president for not invoking Simpson-Bowles, which I agree with him on that.  I think the president made a mistake in not playing up front Simpson-Bowles.  He was a member of Simpson-Bowles, and he voted against him, went on the floor and said it’s not a good idea to do it.

So I think that’s a problem for the Republicans in overreaching. They can make a very good case about the last four years, but when they overreach, then the next day’s stories are all about the course corrections that have to be made.  And I think it goes to their credibility some.  And I think the American people are out there looking to say, I don’t know which of these guys to believe, which is going to make those debates all the more important.

Ryan doesn’t lie, or distort reality–he “overreaches.” And that’s bad because “the next day’s stories are all about the course corrections that have to be made.” No, I’m not really sure that what means either.  But this all “goes to their credibility some.” And viewers might say they don’t know which guy to believe–but that the debates might clear this all up.

Why should we wait for the debates? Shouldn’t journalists consider their job to sort this all out now–without resorting to weak excuses and euphemisms?

One of the main lessons one can draw from all this attention is that truth-telling actually isn’t a priority for many media outlets. Evidence of that could be found on the very same Meet the Press broadcast. The first interview guest was Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and host David Gregory asked him about Republican lies about Obama’s welfare policies–the phony, racially loaded charge that the White House is getting rid of work requirements for welfare recipients. Emanuel explained the White House policy, rebutting Gingrich’s bogus charge.

So who showed up, minutes later, on the show’s roundtable? Newt Gingrich, of course. And he explained that one difference between the Republican and Democratic agendas was that the GOP “believe in the work requirement for welfare.”

Why tell the truth? Lying doesn’t seem to have any impact on whether news shows will keep giving you a platform–depending on who you are, of course, and the kinds of lies you’re telling.


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.