Over the last few years, the liberal "blogosphere" has become increasingly infested with reports of lies, deception, fear mongering and general dishonesty coming out of the conservative-leaning blogosphere, and to be fair, I've read plenty of liberal blogs that do their own share of distortion and selective reporting for partisan gain. One of my favorites was when the liberal blogs reported that an audience at a GOP Presidental-candidate debate booed a gay soldier, when in fact they were booing a man who heckled the soldier. It happens all the time and is to be expected when the public gets an unedited voice to report the news. In general, I do not share in the outrage that even the more popular liberal blogs display over the stupid statements made by their conservative counterparts.
What I cannot accept, and I hope you agree, is when partisan politics mixes with those with the reach and influence blatantly spit on their ethical responsibility to report honestly. I am thinking about national news media, like Fox News, or syndicated programming hosts, like Rush Limbaugh, and yes, even many of our nationally-elected officials and candidates. They all know that ratings, attention, popularity and votes come from (a) telling people what they want to hear, and (b) making themselves look better than everyone else. Following Mr. Churchill's very wise observation, once the misinformation is out, it is essentially impossible to combat, and anyone trying to score political gain relies on this sad but very true fact of communication and human nature.
A few years ago I was listening to NPR (I am a bleeding-heart liberal, after all) coverage of some GOP event where a Senator had been making unsubstantiated claims against the Democrats. The reporter asked a Senator if his statements were true and he said (I'm paraphrasing here) that it was the news media's job to verify the facts of his statements, not his. I do wish I could remember who and when this was, but it wasn't just him. This happens almost daily, because politicians know that their sound bytes will get front-page headlines and free airtime, and the correction will be hidden on page 7 of every paper.
Just this week, Mitt Romney made the unsubstantiated claim that "of all jobs lost during the Obama years, 92.% of them are women." Fact checking website Politifact has labeled this claim Mostly False. Does this matter? The claim is out there, and the lion's share of the people who heard it are not trying to see if it is true or false. If it won points for Mr. Romney, then he and his campaign are done caring about it. Another lie spun, unable to be undone.
I expect that most of the people who make these kinds of statements are relying on their 1st Amendment right to free speech, and their knowledge that it is far too complicated, costly and ineffective to sue in court for damages that came from the lies. In other word, our whole justice system is laid out to help the lie travel and keep the truth looking for its belt. In the short term there may not be a practical solution other than blasting the blogosphere with fact finding and hoping that some of these make their ways into the consciousnesses of the people who blindly believe whatever they hear.
In the longer term, wouldn't it be better to pass federal legislation that requires political statements made on national stages to be vetted before they come out of the candidate's mouth? There is precedent for this: candidates have to endorse paid political advertisements, which was intended to hold them to some measure of accountability. Why not widen the accountability? Why not actively promote truth as well as justice. Will it be complicated? Certainly. Will it be contentious? Without a doubt. Does it stand for what American values ought to be? Absolutely. And as a bonus, if you oppose it, you are advocating the freedom to lie on a national scale with a free microphone.
Please consider writing your lawmakers and encourage them to draft legislation that requires a standard of factual evidence and truth to statements made on political issues. It is time for lies to wear a few chains on their legs so the truth has its fair shake.