The LA Times Applies a Factual Standard

NEW SLAUGHTERTalk about setting dangerous precedents.

The Los Angeles Times recently declared that it was no longer going to run “factually inaccurate” letters about climate change. Anyone who follows the, uh, “debate” on that issue knows what the paper is talking about. Climate science is up there with abortion and gun control in terms of setting off an irrational, emotional explosion among a certain faction of the public … with the notable difference that there is actual science involved in the mechanics of human-caused climate shifts.

A reporter at Mother Jones then called around to nine other big mainstream papers to see what their policies are regarding … reader opinions that have no basis in fact. He got some great weasel-word quotes. The best/worst came from the Denver Post, who said:

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Welcome to the First Completely Post-Factual, All Bull[****] Campaign.

I’m feeling better. In my last post I suggested it was a kind of post-hippie, gauzy-eyed, chemical flashback optimism that led me to think America’s generally flaccid “mainstream” press corp was stumbling toward holding politicians accountable to the truth this season. Now I think I can grasp something tangible. In the course of a week two remarkable events have leapt out into the media’s face.

First, Paul Ryan’s speech to the GOP convention. And then … Mr. Ryan’s highly revealing claim that he once ran a two-hour fifty minute marathon.

Over the past seven days people like James Fallows at The Atlantic have noted the — unusual — lengths The Los Angeles Times and other publications have gone to dissecting Ryan (and others’) convention speeches for their shameless parade of fractional truths, complete non-truths and stuff they just clearly pulled out of their white asses. Simultaneously, the topic of what reporters (and their revenue-anxious bosses) should do in the face of “campaigns” demonstrating such a complete indifference to facts and accuracy has dominated conversations on earnest, wonky, “reality-based” public radio shows like “On the Media”. While the latter is speaking to a niche audience with — just guessing here — a single-digit affinity for the Romney-Ryan ticket and the entire modern GOP ethos, if I dare call it that. When big, second-tier papers like the LA Times (albeit in securely Democratic California) start making an issue of flagrant lying, you can safely say the worm is turning.

As I said last week, part of the problem is that the GOP campaign to date has been such a colossal farce. First it was the Sarah Palin-Herman Cain-Michele Bachmann-Donald Trump vaudeville act. Now we have Mitt Romney, a man who has been so steadfast in his refusal to explain exactly how he’d create 12 million jobs, get tough with Vladimir Putin and lay out to fellow Americans precisely how he bootstrapped his way to fantastic financial success that the ordinary press has little option other than to treat a strategy of opacity and rhetorical fraud as a bona fide issue. The press suspects, as I believe the general public also does, that Romney’s career is built on a bedrock of semi-piracy, (gorging on the casino spin of debt, which as Bain handled it required sliding gutted pension programs off on taxpayers) and the ruthless gaming of a tax system that his company and peers lobbied into existence.

But this marathon business — an otherwise silly exaggeration — accelerates and ingrains the notion that Romney and Ryan can be/must be handled differently than even a manifest air head charlatan like Sarah Palin.

Where the roots and mechanisms of Romney’s fortune remain obscured by the arcane terminology of exotic finance — and Romney’s refusal to disclose anything more to “you people”, as Mrs. Romney refers to the press adds to the curtain — flagrant lying like Ryan on his marathon prowess is a much easier — much easier — window for the average voter into “the real person within”.  (BTW, that “you people” line/attitude is not a good strategy for keeping the impudent media dogs off your lawn.)

Big, highly public events like political campaigns are always vulnerable to seemingly extraneous, petty events that distort the careful focus, like someone suddenly slapping on a fish-eye lens. So it may well be with Ryan’s marathon gaffe and how it cements a now well-established reputation for self-aggrandizing mendacity. Post-marathon bullshit, his crediblity is seen through fundamentally different glass.

The “average voter” probably had the same reaction I did to hearing about Ryan’s whopper — told on a right-wing radio show, not over drinks with his P90X buddies. When a guy exaggerates his prowess at anything, by a little, no one much notices or cares. For me to say for example that I once shot par at the Edina Country Club might astonish anyone who has seen me play golf, but the average audience probably won’t think a moment longer, assuming even the worst duffer can have one out-of-his-mind experience. But … if I go around saying I shot a seven-under par, anyone who has ever played the game has a whiplash moment. Life teaches discerning adults that someone who feels a need to lie/prevaricate so flagrantly is someone with a psychology that knows it is a house of lies and is essentially pleading to be caught and revealed.

Several writers and sites have noted the popular response to Al Gore for “saying he invented the internet”, something he never said but suffered with far more patience than I could have ever mustered. Gore’s actual statement has been heavily fact-checked, and he has a long career built on treating scientific facts as sacred, “inconvenient” things.

Not so much in Ryan’s case. What he said in a half-dozen different points in his big, nationally televised speech and about his marathon ability has now been heavily fact-checked … and proven wholly, utterly false or at best, grossly misleading.

Team Romney may believe they can get away with running the first wall-to-wall completely post-factual All Bullshit campaign, unabashedly ignoring demands for details and transparency and shamelessly repeating the most transparent lies.

But I’m saying they have taunted and tempted an inconvenient fate.

Target’s Lady Gaga Problem

Live by the Gaga, die by the Gaga.

The Target boycott situation has gotten fascinating this week. Pop diva Lady Gaga is now being widely credited for pressuring Target to back off of its policy of using its customers’ dollars to play politics. From numerous LGBT publications to the The Motley Foolto a Los Angeles Times editorial, the conventional wisdom has become this: Target has sworn off politics, and Gaga forced them to do it.

But when I look closely at what Target Executives are saying, that interpretation seems to be inaccurate, or at least premature. As near as I can tell, Target has not announced a change of policy, only a change in process (i.e. the formation of a committee that will decide down the line). If Target has actually “adopted new guidelines for donations to trade associations that prohibit the use of the company’s contributions in political campaigns,” as a Los Angeles Times editorial said, I sure haven’t heard it from Target yet.

For instance, here is what Target VP of Communications Dustee Jenkins told Billboard:

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“No Way This Gets Any Better…”

Part five of the Sarah Palin action figure arc.  As the Los Angeles Times noted, maybe the only winner from the recent economic news has been Governor Palin; fewer people are paying attention to her and to her poor performance in her most recent interview.

We Crowdies, however, have a strong stomach so we can watch without flinching. As Brother Loveland notes, pay particular attention to the answer on Russia.

Huh?

Unfortunately, for Governor Palin, the answer doesn’t read any better than it sounds…

Couric: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

Sarah Palin: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

Couric: Mocked?

Palin: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

John McCain may not be funny anymore, but Sarah Palin is.  Except for that little part that she might end up as the vice-president.

If John McCain can’t handle David Letterman and Sarah Palin can get mugged by Katie Couric, how exactly are they going to handle Putin rearing his head?

– Austin

PS – If you want to read the full transcripts of both parts of Governor Palin’s interview – spoiler alert: they don’t get better – they’re here and here. grants for school fine