And Mitt doesn’t have one.

Steve Benen recites the facts.

Daniel Larison proposes a theory:

[Romney] has reinvented himself so thoroughly that he can no longer remember what is true and what isn’t, and he has absorbed and appropriated so many new positions over the years that it all gets jumbled together and re-mixed according to whatever the political need of the moment happens to be. It’s easy to lose track after the fourth or fifth incarnation.

Larison goes on to propose an alternative theory: ”More likely, he is so contemptuous of the people he tells these lies to that he never thinks he will be found out.” The second theory seem to me exactly half right. Romney has contempt and to spare, but it’s actually for the reporters and editors he relies on not to call him out on his mendacity.

What explains that lapse? Part of the reason is that (according to a reporter for one of Washington’s major political/journalistic enterprises) the Romney campaign – strikingly unlike the Obama campaign – consistently and explicitly uses access and denial of access to reward and punish favorable and unfavorable stories.

In other words, if you don’t believe the current lie, Romney won’t tell you another one. If you’re a news outlet, that’s bad for your circulation. If you’re a reporter, it’s bad for your career.

George W. Bush and Karl Rove proved that you can frame an entire political strategy around the unwillingness of journalists to call a lie a lie. Romney seems to have been their most attentive student.

Footnote As I’ve said here before, blogging and other punditry – which might be defined as Journalism without Picking Up the Damn Phone – is parasitic on actual reporting. But the Romney case illustrates why we need pundits as well as real reporters. The real reporters sometimes face strong professional pressure not to point out that two plus two does not equal five. Assuming that Romney becomes the nominee, the real reporters and their editors will face a serious test of character. I wish I had more confidence than I do that they will emerge from that test with credit.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.