The real sea change in Wednesday night’s convention lay not in the depth and reach of the deliberate distortions, which were admittedly breathtaking. Rather, it was that all the Republicans speakers—not just political consultants whispering to favored columnists—have now shifted so far out of the reality-based community that pretty much every media organ, including Fox and even, implicitly, the Drudge Report, have criticized Ryan’s speech for its laundry list of distortions and hypocrisies. Fact-checking pieces headline all the major morning outlets, from the Washington Post:
to The New Yorker:
to The New Republic:
to the Huffington Post:
to Fox News:
and even to the front page of the New York Times, which cautiously notes Ryan’s hypocrisies toward the end of its piece:
The Drudge Report slyly links its main piece on Ryan to a simple AP transcript, a piece with no commentary at all since finding one that doesn’t mention the distortions is hard to come by.
The way the media in general frame facts has come under immense pressure since the rise of Newt Gingrich during the Reagan years, really. Liberals like to note that the mainstream press has been cowed by decades of complaints that it possesses a liberal bias and favor the Democratic party line while ignoring Republican ideas. In the past five years or so, though, some media critics have begun to push back. The charge from the other side is that mainstream media outlets have abandoned their duty to check simple, knowable facts. For instance, the GM factory Ryan suggested was closed during the Obama Administration was actually shuttered in December 2008, i.e., during the final months of the Bush Administration. Every outlet, except the most devoted Republican organs, has now reported this. So, there has been a big shift now. Daily political journalists have perhaps heard the message that they are not doing their jobs and feel bad about it.
That’s one explanation, and possibly it’s the truth. But the Republicans have also succumbed to the Obama equivalent of what Charles Krauthammer called, more than four years ago, Bush Derangement Syndrome. There is no problem of our time that cannot be assigned to some failing in the leadership of Barack Obama. Inside the bubble of their own chattering class, one could also argue, they have convinced themselves that Obama is to blame for the closure of that GM factory before he became president, or that the Obama/Ryan plan to funnel $716 billion out of future Medicare outlays is only an Obama idea, or that only Obama turned away from the Bowles-Simpson findings that Ryan also rejected. Occasionally these inside retoolings leak out into the public and cause embarrassment—that’s what really explains the recent Todd Akin fiasco. This year, the Republicans have doubled down on their challenges to Stephen Colbert’s famous line: “Facts are a liberal conspiracy.” Or, in a near-rewrite by Romney pollster Neil Newhouse: “We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”