Will Mitt Romney’s Bet on Lying Pay Off?

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Paul Waldman’s jaw drops at the Romney ad team’s total disregard for the truth:

Now, let me be absolutely clear about something. I’ve been paying very, very close attention to political ads for a long time. In my former career as an academic I did a lot of research on political ads. I’ve watched literally every single presidential general election campaign ad ever aired since the first ones in 1952. I’ve seen ads that were more inflammatory than this one, and ads that were in various ways more reprehensible than this one (not many, but some). But I cannot recall a single presidential campaign ad in the history of American politics that lied more blatantly than this one.

Kevin Drum agrees:

This is what’s so striking about Romney’s campaign…Romney has flatly claimed that Obama said something that, in fact, a John McCain aide said. He’s snipped out sentences from an Obama speech and spliced the two halves back together so nobody could tell what he did. Then he did it again to another Obama speech. And he unequivocally said that Obama plans to drop work requirements for welfare even though he’s done nothing of the sort.

This really is a post-truth campaign. It’s different. It’s one thing to be nasty. All campaigns are nasty. It’s one thing to twist and distort and mock. Every campaign does that too. Even the attacks on Al Gore in 2000, as vicious as they were, were mostly media inventions. The Republican campaigns had the distortions handed to them on a platter.

But this is different. This is a presidential candidate just baldly making stuff up on the assumption that nobody will ever know. After all, they figure, who the hell reads Glenn Kessler aside from a bunch of Beltway nerds? And I guess they’re right.

I half-disagree. On the one hand, the political media has been remarkably susceptible to bullying from the right. Ginned-up hysteria and a gullible, cowardly, lazy press has gotten enormous mileage from the right.

But as I was saying this morning, the Romney camp has been caught somewhat flatfooted already by the newly minted power of the left to influence the discourse. Watch Anderson Cooper pin down Newt Gingrich on this Romney ad. Gingrich does the usual squirming, subject changing, and putting forth a squid-ink fog of misdirection, but when Cooper just keeps bearing down on the fact that the ad is blatantly lying, even Newt is forced to say that the ad is okay because, as Paul says, “Barack Obama and those who work for him are, in Newt’s opinion, the kind of people who would gut work requirements if they could, so therefore it’s OK to say that they are actually doing it, even though they aren’t.” Gingrich ends up sounding like a snake.

In politics, moral arguments are powerful, and true moral arguments even more so. The left will be at their strongest handed this sort of red meat on a platter. And Romney’s straight-up bald-faced lying pushes the Republican ability to strong-arm mainstream journalists to the very limit. It’s a slap in the face whose arrogant contempt couldn’t be more obvious. Romney is saying to the press, “You’re stupid, and gullible, and I dare you to call a spade a spade.”

Now, someone betting on journalistic integrity in this country would lose a lot of money. But a lot of people watch Anderson Cooper. Even Brian Williams couldn’t stomach the ad which edited out the part where Obama was quoting a McCain staffer.

Seems to me that we have a decent shot of getting these lies covered for what they are. Worth a shot, anyway. Go for Conor Friedersdorf’s high dudgeon.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is Washington correspondent for The Week.