By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Falsehoods too blatant for the media to ignore

Paul Ryan in 2011

When you claim that President Obama was responsible for the closing of an auto plant that actually shut down before President Bush left office, people are going to notice. The question is whether anyone will care.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered a speech Wednesday night that was unusual for its deliberate mendacity, even by the rough-and-tumble standards of political combat. Right after he finished, the usually timid souls of CNN praised his address for its tone and approach, but volunteered that the fact-checkers would surely have something to say.

Indeed., nonpartisan and often cautious to a fault, reports that Ryan’s speech “contained several false claims and misleading statements” — the auto-plant closing as well as the Surety Bond cost, of course, but also:

  • Criticizing Obama’s $716 billion reduction in the future growth of Medicare when Ryan himself, before joining the Romney ticket, had embraced those same cuts.
  • Taking Obama to task for the ratcheting down of the federal government’s credit rating even though Standard & Poors specifically blamed congressional gridlock.
  • Blaming Obama for the failure of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission’s recommendations without mentioning that he himself had a key role in ensuring they would fail.
  • Falsely claiming that none of the more than $800 billion in stimulus money went to American workers.

FactCheck competitor PolitiFact rated Ryan’s auto-plant whopper as “false” and his Medicare claim as “mostly false.”

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen recently wrote a provocative blog post on the media’s encouragingly aggressive response to a much bigger lie being perpetrated by the Romney-Ryan team — that Obama had loosened the work requirements for welfare recipients.

The problem is that though the media have deviated from their usual he-said/he-said/you-decide formula in frankly labeling the welfare claim a falsehood, the Republicans keep using it on the theory that it’s working. And there’s little evidence that the media’s diligence will make any difference with the public, which is likely to chalk it up to politics as usual.

As for the notion that “both sides do it,” well, they do and they don’t. I think Rosen gets it exactly right:

If you’re wondering: do I recognize that the Obama forces have also used deceptive, depraved and untrue claims? Yes. I do. These stand out: Romney didn’t say he likes firing people in the way some Democrats and TV personalities have suggested, so that counts as a kind of lie. The Priorities USA ad that suggested (without quite saying it) that Bain Capital was somehow responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife: that goes in the depraved category. When the White House claimed it knew nothing about the case that was clearly untrue — pathetic, really. The refusal to condemn the ad was a black mark, as well. Obama ads calling Romney “outsourcer in chief” were over the top and relied on false or overblown claims.

In my view these are serious transgressions. And in my view they do not compare to the use of falsehood and deceptive claims in the Romney 2012 campaign. Nor is there anything coming from the Obama machine that is like the open defiance of fact-checking we have seen from Romney and his team.

Romney delivers his acceptance speech tonight. It will be interesting to see whether he takes the high road, content to let his running mate do the dirty work — or if he will dive into the muck himself.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Next members and comments


  1. Brad Deltan

    Romney doesn’t get himself dirty, he has The Help for that.

  2. The media might finally be fact-checking these big lies, but they still couch them in language like “falsehoods,” “misleading” and “mostly false.” Mostly false? Really? These are lies – and they are deliberate. That’s because there is no real penalties from the media for continuing to use them. The headlines should not be on the talking points – but on the truth of the statements and plans – for both sides.

  3. Andy Koppel

    Falsehoods, mendacity, misleading statements. These are all euphemisms that shield speakers from the real impact of their behavior. These are lies and Ryan is a liar. It sounds different and harsher, but it is true by any dictionary definition of the term.

  4. Laurence Glavin

    Mediaite has a story about a Romney campaign aide who is unmoved by such considerations:

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Some truly disingenuous pushback from the right on the GM plant closing. Here’s a good analysis of what they’re saying and why they’re wrong.

  6. L.K. Collins

    Dan, the inescapable fact is that the economy remains in the tank.

    • Mike Benedict

      LK, the inescapable fact is that the Republicans put it there.

      • L.K. Collins

        The inescapable fact, Mikey, is that after four years of “hope and change”, there is little hope and there has been absolutely no change.

      • Mike Rice

        Here’s another inescapable fact, on February 1, 2009 President Obama stated: “If I can’t get this done in three years, then it’s going to be a one-term presidency.”

        • Dan Kennedy

          @Mike Rice: Yes, and he may be proven right. But it was a foolish promise. It takes 10 years to recover from a recession set off by a financial crisis.

          Things would be better if Obama had
          pushed harder for such things as more stimulus, more relief for underwater homeowners. If Romney wins and starts moving in the opposite direction, toward austerity, we’ll have a disaster on our hands.

          Fortunately, Romney is a smart guy and doesn’t believe anything he’s saying right now.

      • Mike Benedict

        Ah, LK, do please keep clinging to trope that just as tightly as you cling to your ventilation mask. But while you do so, keep in mind that the Romney-Ryan ticket is pitching the EXACT lines Obama did in 2008.

        Betcha you don’t remember the unemployment rate when the summer Reagan ran for his second turn. (Yes, I know even you can Google it.)

  7. Is anyone really surprised by this? I mean, Christ, Republicans have been telling whoppers for decades now. Democrats, too, but only Republicans manage to really pull off The Big Lie. How many times did Reagan staffers brush off blatant lies in the Gipper’s speeches by saying it was “just a good story”? What about Bush and how there were definitely, without doubt, take-it-to-the-bank WMD’s in Iraq? Good god, NIXON anyone???

    I think Romney’s camp is just the first to adapt to the modern information age. To realize that precisely BECAUSE we, as a society, are drowning in information…that there’s a huge percentage of the population who have regressed to “gut instinct” and nothing more because they’re instantly overwhelmed if they try to perform any sort of reasoned analysis. As such, you can lie out your ass and those people, if they already agree with you, will believe it no matter what facts are presented to refute the lie.

    It’s the Truthiness Generation. We are now entitled to our own facts. And truth alone will never beat the lie. The only way one side’s lies will be beaten is if the other side has better lies.

    The only thing I’m left to wonder is if things have always been this bad and I just don’t know it because I’m too young (born in 1976)…or if my perception really is the reality, and things really have been getting worse in the last twenty years.

  8. Paula Lyons

    Dan, a TPM link proves nothing, might as well be a FOX link. But what I understand from Paul Ryan’s speech is yes, the GM plant did in fact produce vehicles in 2009 and when Obama spoke in Janesville, he gave hope that the plant may stay open. Unfortunatley that proved false. So technically it is not a lie.

    Second of all in reagards to the transferred medicare dollars, how can you short providers $716 billion dollars and say it won’t affect patient care with a straight face? I’ve done medical billing, namely medicare reimbursements and I’ve seen what the fed has done to healthcare providers.

    Honestly, I think Ryan “stretched” it but lie, no. I know the pundits on the left are jumping up and down but honestly it’s kind of hilarious because thats all they got.

  9. Steve Rhode

    @Paula – It sure looks to me like those local articles detailing the history of the plant closure are genuine. Maybe you just need to dig a little harder before dismissing it out of hand.

    @Dan – no surprises here. Have you forgotten how Romney goaded Shannon O’Brien into calling him a liar, then made her completely lose her composure by patronizing her?

  10. Mike Benedict

    @Paula, the amount of waste in the medical system is enormous — and, yes, may well be in the several hundreds of billions range. There clearly is an enormous amount of unnecessary diagnostic testing performed, mostly to boost reimbursements and pay for extraordinarily expensive equipment few hospitals need. The trend needs to move away from the hospital model and back to a clinic-based model. You’ve heard of Doctors Without Borders. We need Doctors Without Hospitals. (Btw, if anything, I’m biased toward the medical field because I have three doctors in my immediate family, two of whom, including my wife, are specialists.)

    • Paula Lyons

      I’m not talking about waste alone, but waste is a big factor in any government agency. Talk to a medicare reimbursement person. When I did it, the government would “settle” for pennies on a dollar for what was owed. Ambulatory care – fuggehedabout it. Really, they would say to our hospital that they would pay so much on the dollar and settle the rest at the end of the year. Needless to say, the hospital ate quite a lot.

      Back to the point however, how is shorting medicare providers NOT going to affect patient care?

      • Mike Benedict

        It will only affect the patient care if the providers are truly efficient and cost conscious to begin with. Since they aren’t, the hit will come from the hospitals. As well it should. The unfortunate thing is, it probably won’t be enough to truly change the behavior at some places.

  11. Donna Halper

    The sad part is that thanks to the SuperPACs, the same lies by Mitt and his minions can be spread over and over till the public comes to believe they are true. A Romney aid said fact-checkers don’t matter, and he may be proved right. My problem is the journalists who interview Mitt & Paul and let them spout their talking points without pushing back. But again, the Citizens United world is really complicating campaigning and making it easier for lies to take the form of truth to the low-information voter. Shame on Scott Brown, by the way, for voting against the DISCLOSE Act. His office told me he thinks it is just “political theater”– but I say it’s important to know which billionaires are trying to buy our democracy.

  12. Laurence Glavin

    Several Ryan apologists appeared on the Sunday morning gabfests and peddled the line about some work at the GM Janesville plant took place in 2009. But there’s no doubt that it stopped being a going concern as the business press likes to say long before that. One day in 2008, it was possible to walk into the plant and fill out an application to work there; the next day it wasn’t. I used to work for a computer company named Wang Laboratories, Inc. One morning, people from Human Resources came around with paper paychecks (this was the pre-direct deposit era) and told everyone to go the bank and cash them before the day was over. What happened with people on vacation or out sick, I don’t know. Shortly thereafter, the Company declared bankruptcy, but nonetheless continued to provide hardware, software, aftermarket products and services to the installed base for two years thereafter. People were let go by the hundred every week, so that the parking lot looked like the last Act of “MacBeth” with people carrying potted plants along with their belongings. Multi-billion-dollar Companies take a long time to wind down. It’s not like the familiar stories of bankrupt banquet halls who shut down causing engaged couples to scramble for a hall to hold their receptions.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Laurence: It’s just pathetic. As the local newspaper (among other sources) made clear, the facility was shut down as a GM plant on 12/23/08. A small number of workers stayed on to finish a contract job for Isuzu, and that was completed a few months later.

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