Debate Deceptions Are a Time-Tested GOP Strategy

Corporate journalism is not known for standing up to powerful politicians–or for its long memory. And so, when factchecks of the first presidential debate revealed that GOP candidate Mitt Romney was often not very truthful, sometimes even misstating his own policies, the media not only failed to make much of a fuss over Romney’s falsehoods, they also failed to tie them into a GOP tradition of debate dissembling.

Wait, did I just say a GOP tradition of debate dissembling? That’s right–it’s a strategy that was acknowledged as far back as 1984, but it’s gone virtually unmentioned in U.S. media since then.

The strategy was first revealed in an October 4, 1984 New York Times piece that quoted Peter Teeley, the press secretary to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, who said, “You can say anything you want during a debate and 80 million people hear it.” Teeley added that, if the candidate spoke untruthfully: ”So what? Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000.”

Corporate media have failed to connect this time-tested strategy to Romney’s performance–where Think Progress claimed he repeated “27 myths in 38 minutes.” Indeed, besidesĀ MichaelMoore.com, which recently dug up the New York Times report, virtually no one has mentioned it in years.

Of course, the reason Republicans think they can get away with lying in debates is the same reason they think they can speak publicly of a strategy of lying in debates–they believe they will never be called on it by the media that reach the vast majority of voters. And they’re right.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.