Romney/Ryan and the lullaby of lying
If the news media hadn’t grown blasé about the Republican war on women, plenty of pre-Akin Americans would have already known that GOP majorities in Congress and state legislatures have repeatedly voted to narrow the definition of “legitimate rape” to “” target=”_hplink”>personhood” to fertilized eggs, which would criminalize birth control pills, IUDs and in vitro fertility procedures. If cynicism weren’t the default mode of political reporting, we’d now be seeing Mitt Romney’s feet held to the fire of his party’s ” target=”_hplink”>Reince Preibus’ attempt to dissociate the candidate from his platform would be worth more than a chuckle and a yawn from the press corps.
“The Big Lie” is a propaganda technique that kids hear about in school. If you learn what Nazis and Communists did, if you read Orwell’s “1984,” you’re supposed to be inoculated against pervasive, outrageous falsehoods. That’s why Jefferson and Franklin counted on public education and public libraries. It’s also why the First Amendment protects the fourth estate; it shields muckrakers, investigative journalists, critics and gadflies from censorship.
But today the biggest threat to democracy isn’t government intimidation of the press. It’s boredom – a consequence of the domination of political communication by paid media, the subordination of news to entertainment, the imperative to monetize audience attention, the fear that information and amusement are locked in a zero sum game.
Mitt Romney and deep pockets like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson have flooded the airwaves with ads claiming that Barack Obama has eliminated the ” target=”_hplink”>Medicare recipients to fund a ” target=”_hplink”>lazy blacks, there’s no news left in the narrative. Networks fear that audiences will get bored, so they move on. And yes, there may be some truth to their understanding of their customers. We’re hooked on novelty, suckers for speed, addled by ADD. But billionaires don’t get bored. They keep paying to pound those ads into our heads, whether we like it or not. Repetition is the demagogue’s best friend.
No member of Congress is farther to the right than Paul Ryan. He’s an acolyte of the ideologue ” target=”_hplink”>safety net that has defined the American social contract since the 1930s, but explaining this takes time, which risks audience share, and in the face of a barrage of ads portraying him as the savior of seniors, it takes the kind of persistence that news executives fear hurts ratings. He is a ” target=”_hplink”>fraudulent, but hey, how ‘bout the six-pack on that dreamboat?
If the media were doing its job in this election, the story it would be telling over and over is that Mitt Romney’s qualification for the presidency consists of a career at Bain Capital about which we know essentially nothing; that his economic plan is the most massive ” target=”_hplink”>financial disclosure rules that have applied to presidential candidates since his father ran; that his ” target=”_hplink”>identical to the Affordable Care Act he promises to repeal; that he has ” target=”_hplink”>suppress voter turnout may well send him to the White House.
But that’s old news. Been there, done that. I’ll leave it to others to make the case that the press is giving Obama a free ride. If that’s true, then there’s been a double dereliction of duty. News producers are afraid that indefatigable fact checking of either party will bore the pants off people. But I don’t smell any fear of ennui emanating from station owners making billions off broadcasting the Big Lie.
Marty Kaplan is the ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.