Watching the GOP convention, I was reminded of a great passage in Thomas Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas?
The Republicans today are the party of anti-intellectualism, of rough frontier contempt for sophisticated ideas and pantywaist book-learning. ... Today's Republicans are doing what the Whigs did in the 1840s: putting on backwoods accents, telling the world about their log-cabin upbringings, and raging against the over-educated elites.
The convention was a hate fest, unlike anything in recent memory. It was Pat Buchanan, circa 1992, multiplied many times over. There were so many half-truths, distortions, exaggerations and outright lies about John Kerry and his beliefs, and about the "successes" of the first Bush administration, that it would probably take several days to write them all out and provide the appropriate analysis.
The GOP made a calculated decision, and the early returns -- unfortunately for the Democrats -- is that they calculated correctly. That calculation? That raw passion
was more important than raw data
It's a policy that the administration has taken since its inception. It has put forth bold ideas, facts be damned. And while the media has on occasion debunked half-truths, exaggerations and lies for what they are, the GOP (and its pundit supporters) have been able to change a lot of minds along the way by repeating those same half-truths, exaggerations and lies over and over, facts be damned. And more often than not, the media has been too slow, or too weak, to stand in the way.
It allows conservatives to say with a straight face that:
-- We're turning the corner on (fill in the blank):
George W. Bush boasted about 144,000 new jobs created in August, even though economists will tell you that you need 150,000 new jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. In the past year, jobs were created at about 155,000/month.
You can almost hear Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove snicker, because they know it's easier to boast about job creation than to explain economics. It's easier to point at a simple number -- 5.4% unemployment -- than to explain about lower wages for jobs found vs. jobs lost, or to speculate about that the unemployment rate has dropped in part because people have stopped looking for jobs, or stopped receiving unemployment benefits, or settled for part-time work. (Look how long it took me to write out those possibilities.)
As for economic growth, it slowed to 2.5% in the second quarter -- below the 3% you need for a growing and recovering economy. That marked the third consecutive dropoff in economic growth, following the one-quarter boom last fall. But Bush isn't saying that on the campaign trail, and Gillespie and Rove (snicker, snicker) know that our media isn't all that interested in repeating raw data over and over, lest they bore the masses. It's even harder when "GOP superstars" like Rudy Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger can passionately say -- unchallenged -- that things are getting better (and that the recession started under President Clinton, another lie).
As for tax cuts, economists have shown that every tax dollar cut by this administration has provided some 64 cents of economic growth. Fully funding state programs would provide some $1.24 of growth, according to the economists. But that's very complicated to explain on Hardball or Larry King, right? It's much easier to allow Ed Gillespie or Terry Holt to tout Bush's "bold initiatives" and "decisiveness," unchallenged.
-- We're going to fund (fill in the blank):
In his convention acceptance speech, Bush listed various programs for which he planned to increase funding. Watch Gillespie and Rove snicker, as the Chris Matthews of the world say the president was "strong" or even "compassionate" in his speech. It's easier to say such things than to fact check -- remember, the speech was available to journalists and even John Kerry earlier in the day -- and discover that most of the programs the president was touting were ones he cut (or tried to cut) since coming to president.
This is nothing new. On the campaign trail, the president had the chutzpah to tout to a Native American audience a federal housing assistance program that his 2005 budget plans to cut. And we all know that Bush fought the formation of such things as the Department of Homeland Security and the 9/11 commission, then touted and took credit for them.
-- John Kerry was wrong on (fill in the blank):
Before Sen. Zell Miller challenged Chris Matthews to a duel, he repeated a series of half-truths about John Kerry, wondering whether Kerry would arm our troops with "spitballs" to fight the war on terror. But many of the weapons programs he cited were ones cut in a bipartisan effort under George H.W. Bush, and his defense secretary, Dick Cheney.
This is not news. But our media focused first and foremost on Miller's anger, seemingly unaware of the half-truths, even though he has been saying them for several months on the various pundit shows. The conservatives in the media -- Hannity, etc. -- praised Miller's passion, even as others in the GOP, like John McCain, steered clear, and GOP spokesman like Terry Holt had "no comment" on Miller's factual inaccuracies.
Cheney, with incredible hypocrisy, has made similar charges. He also has thrown out the "Kerry wants to be sensitive to terrorists" line, even though he has used the word sensitive the same way -- as in sensitive to our allies, or sensitive to the conditions in Iraq. But even when the media challenged this hypocrisy, folks like Gillespie and Holt (snicker, snicker) were out in force to throw the kitchen sink against Kerry, and hope to confuse voters into forgetting who originally lied about whom.
We also heard about how Kerry wanted to gut intelligence, even though it is well documented that he proposed cutting 1% of our intelligence budget to cut waste and fraud. Why didn't his bill pass? Because it was superseded by a similar bill proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), which did pass with bipartisan support. (And, by the way, Bush's proposed new CIA Chief, Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), proposed even bigger cuts, in a bill that did not pass). Different charge, same results -- the media generally snored.
We're fighting a war on terror, and yet Osama Bin Laden's name was mentioned once at the GOP convention (or one fewer time than Richard Nixon's name was brought up, according to Mo Rocca, a guest correspondent on Larry King.) Amazing, isn't it? You'd have thought that Saddam was behind 9/11 -- just like (snicker, snicker) Karl Rove wants you to.
In the course of my work, I probably speak to a core of about 200 sources. Over the years, I have come across the occasional lie or half-truth. Some sources, upon being pressed, will provide the entire story. Others, however, will continue to lie, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
And because I have so many sources to choose from -- in theory, I have over 1,000 at my disposal, and nearly all of the 200 could be replaced -- I have on occasion dropped a key source because I could no longer trust them. And it didn't take repeated embarrassments to make those decisions.
But, sadly, our major media personalities don't work that way. They are either too stupid or too weak to stand up to those who tell them half-truths and lies.
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show
, asked Chris Matthews on Friday whether he feared being "blackballed." It's a great question, and Matthews clumsily suggested he was indeed afraid of that happening.
My question is, why doesn't Chris Matthews (and others in his shoes) blackball those who lie to him (and the viewers)? Why bring these people back on again and again?
Case in point: Christine Todd Whitman, the former EPA chief, was on Hardball last week as one of their seemingly endless stream of panelists discussion the convention. But this is the same Christine Todd Whitman who, in the wake of 9/11, told television audiences that the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.
The exact dateline:
-- Sept. 13: EPA issues press release saying air samples are "very reassuring."
-- Sept. 17: Federal and New York City officials allow people to return to their homes.
-- Sept. 18: EPA declares: "their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe."
-- Oct. 3: EPA says Ground Zero data through Sept. 30 reveals "no significant health risks."
Significantly later, EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley admitted "the EPA had not gathered nearly enough data" to make such sweeping declarations. New Yorkers, as a result, were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, lead, concrete, glass and other debris.
But Whitman is given a free pass on all of that, cancer be damned. And her former boss, George W. Bush, posed with firefighters last week, and there was nary a peep about what the EPA did (or even about Bush's budget cuts relating to police, firefighters and emergency medical workers).
Case in point: The key "facts" about John Kerry's purple hearts and other medals, as laid out by the Swift Boat Veterans, have been overwhelming debunked as at best hearsay and pointed speculation, and at worst, lies.
When John O'Neill goes talks with Chris Matthews or George Stephanapoulos or Wolf Blitzer, the charges being made had been documented. And significant research was available to debunk those charges. Web sites like dailyhowler.com easily showed how the various charges either were based on hearsay, or contained information that had been contradicted by earlier statements by the various Swifties.
Yet, Chris and George and Wolf gave these folks a chance, and allowed a lot of damaging information to be presented as a "point of view." And even if the mainstream "journalists" scored a point or two, the Swifties could turn around and spew with Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or Hugh Hewitt or Mark Levin, unchallenged.
Only 1 in 4 people find the Swifties' charges credible. When the Swifties strike again, will the media ignore them? Probably not. Because Hannity and Limbaugh and the rest of the conservatives will give them airtime, and the remainder will cower, lest they be accused of showing "liberal bias."
The GOP has shown a disinterest in egghead Harvard studies. It doesn't matter whether it economics, Ground Zero air quality ... heck, intelligence about Iraq. The administration has "strength" and "passion" and "decisiveness" about the issues of the day!
Our media, sadly, too often follows this "know nothing" route. Poorly prepared for interviews, unwilling or afraid to fact check on the air, they are accomplices to the Bush administration's strategy of keeping our populace uninformed.
And if that means your son or daughter has to die in Iraq, well, don't let some Harvard egghead tell you that there was a body of intelligence out there before we went to war that was ignored because it contradicted the administration. And if your loved one got sick because they returned to Lower Manhattan prematurely because of assurances from this administration, well, don't let some Sierra Club envirofreak tellyou that there was a body of intelligence out there before people returned to their homes that was ignored because it contradicted the administration.
And if we re-elect Bush because a majority of Americans believe the half-truths and lies shoved down their throats, well, don't let some New York Times
liberal columnist tell you that there was a body of intelligence out there before the election that was ignored because it contradicted the administration.