By Robert Reich
“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 $216 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.
The second 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.
The third 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.