“We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” says Neil Newhouse, a Romney pollster. A half dozen fact-checking organizations and websites have refuted Romney’s claims that Obama removed the work requirement from the welfare law and will cut Medicare benefits by $716 billion.
Last Sunday’s New York Times even reported on its front page that Romney has been “falsely charging” President Obama with removing the work requirement. Those are strong words from the venerable Times. Yet Romney is still making the false charge. Ads containing it continue to be aired.
Presumably the Romney campaign continues its false claims because they’re effective. But this raises a more basic question: How can they remain effective when they’ve been so overwhelmingly discredited by the media?
The answer is the Republican Party has developed three means of bypassing the mainstream media and its fact-checkers.
The first is by repeating big lies so often in TV spots – financed by a mountain of campaign money – that the public can no longer recall (if it ever knew) that the mainstream media and its fact-checkers have found them to be lies.
A series of court decisions and regulatory changes, beginning with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission, opened the floodgates to big money. Fully a quarter of the $350 million amassed by Super PACs through the end of July came from just ten donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks such spending.
And through political front groups masquerading as nonprofits charitable, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, corporations and Wall Street banks are making secret contributions — without even their own shareholders knowing.
The second means the GOP has developed to protect its lies is by discrediting the mainstream media – asserting it’s run by “liberal elites” that can’t be trusted to tell the truth. “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans,” Newt Gingrich charged at a Republican debate last January, in what’s become a standard GOP attack line.
To be sure, the mainstream media hasn’t always called it correctly. Initially it bought the Bush administration’s claim there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. But the mainstream media is at least committed to professional standards that separate truth from fiction, seek objective facts, correct errors, and disseminate the truth.
The third mechanism is by using its own misinformation outlets — led by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and his yell-radio imitators, book publisher Regnery, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, along with a right-wing blogosphere — to spread the lies, or at least spread doubt about what’s true.
Together, these three mechanisms are creating a parallel Republican universe of Orwellian dimension – where anything can be asserted, where pollsters and political advisers are free to create whatever concoction of lies will help elect their candidate, and where “fact-checkers” are as irrelevant and intrusive as is the truth.
Democracy cannot thrive in such a place. To the contrary, history teaches that this is where demagogues take root.
The Romney campaign has decided it won’t be dictated by fact-checkers. But a society without trusted arbiters of what is true and what is false is vulnerable to every lie imaginable.
Cross-posted from Robert Reich’s blog.