Okay, so let’s say a candidate utters a demonstrable falsehood and gets called out by independent fact checkers. And let’s say this candidate continues to utter the falsehood anyway. And let’s say news orgs continue giving it airtime. At risk of sounding overly earnest, shouldn’t these news orgs tell readers and viewers it’s false, or at least provide crucial context and info enabling them to evaluate the claim, every time they amplify it?
This isn’t a rhetorical question. It’s a real query about the role of the press. If news orgs don’t do this, aren’t they helping that candidate mislead people? Does that matter?
Today, in his big foreign policy speech, Mitt Romney drew on two of the right’s favorite Big Lies to make a familiar argument. From the prepared remarks:
Let me make this very clear. As President of the United States, I will devote myself to an American Century. And I will never, ever apologize for America...
I believe we are an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world. Not exceptional, as the President has derisively said, in the way that the British think Great Britain is exceptional or the Greeks think Greece is exceptional. In Barack Obama’s profoundly mistaken view, there is nothing unique about the United States.
The first statement is an indirect falsehood. Romney does not say outright that Obama apologized for America. But that’s the unmistakable conclusion that listeners are meant to draw from his remarks. And it’s simply false. Post fact checker Glenn Kessler took a hard look at the evidence and soundly debunked it way back in February, concluding flatly that this is a “storyline that does not exist.”
The second statement is a direct falsehood, one that’s founded on a highly dishonest reading of remarks Obama made in April of 2009. In those remarks, Obama did not make the relevant claim about American exceptionalism “derisively” at all. What’s more, Obama went on to proclaim his belief in American exceptionalism and the uniqueness of America’s role in history and in the world.
The problem is that in the first batch of stories, multiple news orgs amplified these claims while presenting them as a matter of dispute rather than a matter of fact, or while failing to provide any info or context that would enable readers to evaluate the claims. And there will surely be more.
I get that it’s not easy for us to stay on top of all the falsehoods. But Romney repeats these particular ones constantly — they’re central to his campaign strategy and message. And readers of these accounts could easily come away believing that Obama has apologized for America and doesn’t think it’s an exceptional nation. In short, they may very well come away deceived — with the unwitting help of the news orgs that are meant to be serving them.
UPDATE: As Steve Benen notes, these falsehoods are also important because they’re about a much broader effort by Romney to sow insidious doubts about Obama’s true intentions towards America.