Ok, in part this post is gratuitous. It's just the excuse to yet again speak of the Lying Paul Ryan. You know who Lying Paul Ryan is right? Lying and Paul Ryan rhyme and don't only rhyme.
The trouble is how similar the phrases Lying on the one hand and Paul Ryan on the other hand are. I'm must saying that his name on a phonological basis-Saussure-is particularly unfortunate considering how similar his name is sound wise to the word lying.
Bob Garfield over at the Guardian argues that there are three main types of lies: lies, big lies, and white lies.
"Everyone understands that there are lies, white lies and Big Lies. A lie is, "No, I am not sleeping with my yoga instructor." A white lie is, "Your baby is just so beautiful!" The two biggest Big Lies of modern times are "the Jews are destroying you" and "global warming is an invention of the left." Plus, maybe, "Lose weight without diet and exercise."
"Big Lies are hard to get going, requiring as they do obvious falsity, almost unimaginable ruthlessness and a premise so enticing to masses of bigots and fools that they eagerly suspend reason and disbelief. Many conspiracy theories aspire to the Big Lie, but they can't get traction – because when you start alleging that Bush blew up the twin towers, even morons think you're a nut job."
I'm not sure about his example of the Big Lie. Does he have an example of a successful big Lie? He seems to be skeptical that any exist-his use of the old "conspiracy theories" canard makes you suspect he thinks that Big Lies never happen. I must confess to not finding the idea that Bush blew up the twin towers as so far-fetched as some.
If it is a wild idea I hope that's not because you find Bush incredibly trustworthy and can vouche for his character. Hopefully that's not what it's based on.
However, I digress. Garfield says that Ryan's art is the Medium Lie:
"So, no, Paul Ryan told no Big Lies. What he told, in quick succession, was an astonishing number of Medium Lies."
"The Medium Lie has all the characteristics of the Big Lie – a shocking allegation, inherent pandering to bigotry and self-evident untruth – but lacks the high stakes and therefore tends to be more ephemeral. The Medium Lies of 2012 will be mainly forgotten in 2013."
"No, Barack Obama has no intention of "gutting Medicare", as Republicans have alleged. But by spring, there will be other fish to fry – just as Massachusetts prison furloughs slipped out of the public consciousness shortly after Willie Horton got George HW Bush elected."
"Once again, I don't want to sell Paul Ryan short. His command of the Medium Lie is indeed breathtaking. His anecdote about the Janesville, Wisconsin factory that candidate Barack Obama promised to save, but which President Obama let fail had a certain magnificence to it – because Obama never did promise to save the factory, and because he wasn't yet president when it closed down."
Lately Ryan has taken to claim the double think that
A). He never said it's the President's fault that the plant closed down
B). However, he brought it up as it's a great example of him breaking his promises
To claim these two things at once is certainly no small feat and he is a black belt in the medium lie.
It is great to see Garfield's piece as he's a Brit-the Guardian of course is a British paper. Ryan's status as a Truth Teller has suffered a major muddying.
And Garfield does give us some reason to hope that the level of Ryan's mendacity was so great the the media has finally woken up:
"Not to say that only Republicans trade in the Medium Lie. As noted in this space previously, Obama's proxies at the Priorities USA Action Super Pac all but accused Republican nominee Mitt Romney of murder in the cancer death of a woman whose husband lost his job at a Bain Capital-shuttered steel mill, and with it his family healthcare coverage. What the Medium Liars never mention is that the woman had her own health insurance and was not diagnosed with cancer until 5 years later. So Romney has no blood on his hands. And when the Obama campaign claimed to have had no knowledge of the Super Pac's activities, they were lying about that, too."
"But let us not bend over too far backwards here. Yes, Democrats have been caught in many a lie, but the current GOP presidential campaign is the proverbial tissue of Medium Lies: that Obama plans to gut Medicare; that federal bureaucrats will make healthcare decisions for patients under "Obamacare"; that the administration's seeks to remove the work requirement from "welfare to work" policies and plenty more."
"Luckily, we have the media to protect us. For so long, cowed by charges of liberal bias, the US press declined to be arbiters of truth. News organizations simply transcribed each lie and balanced it with the protests of the opposing party, leaving it to the public to evaluate truth or falsity. Such craven neutrality, of course, served nothing but to politicize reality – as if the truth of all assertions was merely a question of viewpoint. As such, facts and lies both came to be seen as political spin – which is why approximately half the US electorate believes that manmade global climate change is a boogeyman invented by leftwingers.
Now, of course, many news organizations have fact checkers who vet speeches, ads, soundbites and online videos for veracity. They actually do a marvelous job of providing context for political claims, especially to show how during the "opposition research" process a nominal fact can be twisted into naked prevarication. Good for them."
"But then, having finally fulfilled their basic function as gatekeepers, they immediately denature their own efforts by softening language to the consistency of boiled linguine. There is no talk of lies White, Big or Medium. The words employed are "misleading", "deceptive", "mostly false". If you are discovered, as Ryan was, spewing unadulterated bullshit, the penalty will be four Pinocchios, or the designation "Pants on Fire".
Because, I suppose, Fibberific is just too hard-edged."
"So yes, politicians are ever more emboldened to just invent whatever outrages they need to agitate the base. A few Pinocchios will not slow them down. On the contrary, as a Romney-Ryan pollster put it, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."
"Or, this time to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the Medium Lie is the message."
I'm not entirely happy with this representation of the Priorities commercial-it didn't claim that Romney directly killed her, but that it was just another factor in her inability to get decent healthcare that caused her death. The kernel of truth is that Romney has promised to end ObamaCare and indeed, Medicare and that between these two actions there will be many more Americans like that woman.
One thing that Garfield doesn't look at is a tendency to get so stuck on some small, allegedly mitigating detail and so losing sight of the forest for the trees. This was true in Anderson Cooper's recent dressing down of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. He claimed that it's a lie to bring Ryan and Romney into the conversation with Akin-we just have to focus like a laser on his one "mistake" and lose the context that he and Ryan agree fundamentally, and Romney has said things that show him pretty close as well.
Still, his overall take is good. He's noting that the media has too long played a game of craven neutrality where truths and lies get equal time and the media sees it's job as merely to be a stenographer, recording in the minutes what she said and he said.
Perhaps that's finally changing. There does seem at least to be some soul searching.