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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 02:13 PM ET, 08/29/2012

Call out the lies right in your headlines

This doesn’t happen every day, but good for the Los Angeles Times for calling out the ubiquitous falsehood about Obama supposedly waiving welfare reform’s work requirement right in its headline:

Rick Santorum repeats inaccurate welfare attack on Obama

As Kevin Drum says: “it’s about time reporters and copy editors started putting this stuff front and center.” And, indeed, the LA Times does this, in its headline and with this highly placed sentence: “In fact, Obama did not waive the work requirement.”

The lie debunked here, of course, is central to Mitt Romney’s campaign; it is airing in ads in multiple swing states that are reportedly backed by heavy buys, and Romney and his surrogates have been repeating it in one forum after another for weeks on end.

I didn’t expect this, but the epic dishonesty of Romney’s campaign is finally prompting something of a debate among media types about whether what we’re seeing here is unprecedented — and how to appropriately respond to it. This debate is focused partly on whether there’s a racial dimension to this attack. But it’s also about (as I noted here yesterday) what the media should do when one campaign has decided that there is literally no set of boundaries or standards it needs to follow when it comes to the veracity of the core assertions at the heart of its entire argument.

There seems to be a bit of a strain of media defeatism settling in about this. James Bennet, the editor of the Atlantic, wrote yesterday that he is glad to see news outlets calling Romney’s falsehoods out for what they are. But he wondered whether we are about to discover that the press is essentially impotent in the face of this level of deliberate dishonesty: “what if it turns out that when the press calls a lie a lie, nobody cares?”

I’m sympathetic to the question. Indeed, it goes to the heart of the Romney campaign’s gamble here, which is that the press simply won’t be able to keep voters informed in the face of the sheer scope and volume of mendacity it unleashes daily. At the same time, though, I have to agree with Atrios: When news orgs want to make a big stink about something, and keep that stink going for a good long while, they prove to be very capable of it indeed.

As Steve Benen and James Fallows keep arguing, this poses a test for the news media. What would happen if a nontrivial number of articles and broadcasts about the welfare lie and other Romney falsehoods called out his dishonesty right in their headlines, prominently featuring unequivocal declarations (not mealy-mouthed he-said-she-said nonsense) that Romney is misleading people and has done so again and again and again, despite knowing the truth?

Mark Kleiman suggests that horserace reporters begin clearly spelling out that Romney has “made a strategic decision to try to bury Obama under a blanket of false charges.” Would that be an exaggeration? No, it wouldn’t. What if newspapers devoted extensive front page pieces to dissecting Romney’s decision to continue basing entire ad campaigns on widely debunked claims, even as Romney advisers openly boast about the success of their dishonest ads and openly declare that they won’t be constrained by fact-checking?

Could something like that begin to shift the dynamic a bit and make it harder for a campaign to keep lying at this pace? I don’t know, but it would be nice to find out.

By  |  02:13 PM ET, 08/29/2012

 
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