Sunday, October 10, 2004

Lies, Lies, Lies

Conservative hearts untold went aflutter this weekend with the release of a memo written by ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin. In it he writes:

The New York Times (Nagourney/Stevenson) and Howard Fineman on the web both make the same point today: the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done.

Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win.

We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.

Surely this is an example of the liberal media taking up arms, right? Kerry's lies don't matter! See ... the media has it in for Bush! The fuckers!! The way they supported Clinton through thick and thin, and never had a bad word to say about him ... or Gore!! It's so obvious, you liberals!!!!

Slow down, Chef. Take a deep breath. Once your blood pressure has stabilized, read this relatively decent fact-check article in the LA Times -- note that while the headline makes it appear that both candidates are equally at fault in bending or breaking the truth to his advantage, the facts themselves would appear to put the burden more squarely on one candidate's shoulders. This is not liberal bias at work. If nothing, it is straining to find an 'objective' balance in the face of overwhelming reality: that Bush's lies are substantively different than Kerry's. Matt Yglesias sums it up well:

Let me note further that the point here is not that Bush lies more than Kerry by some aggregate quantity measure (that may well be true, though it's hard to see how you'd run the numbers) the point is that Bush's lying is qualitatively different from Kerry's. The main points the media's fact-checkers have nailed Kerry on are, (a) the claim that Iraq has cost $200 billion, (b) the claim that General Eric Shinseki was "retired early," and (c) the claim that America has lost 1.6 million jobs during the Bush administration. The reality of (a) is that Iraq has cost $120 billion and is projected to cost $80 billion more based on current policy; of (b) that Shinseki was punished in a way that's a bit hard to appreciate unless you understand the standard operating procedure for senior military officers, and (c) that America has lost 1.6 million private sector jobs while gaining 1.1 million or so government jobs. In all of these cases, the point Kerry was trying to make (a) that Iraq has been expensive, (b) that Shinseki was punished for being right, and (c) that the labor market has been crappy, are all perfectly accurate.

Typical Bushian distortions aren't like this at all. They aren't oversimplifications, designed to create a good sound bite but where the basic point stands even if you lay out the facts. To take just one example, Bush says Kerry favors a "government takeover" of the health insurance market. He does not, in fact, favor such a takeover. And the only argument Bush musters against the Kerry plan is that it's a big government takeover. The fact that this isn't what Kerry's actually proposing thus utterly defeats Bush's point. There's a significance to this departure from reality that imprecision about what happened to General Shinseki lacks.

I know what I said in an earlier post, "The point is not simply to try to find the truth laying behind a policy ..." But equally important is the concluding clause of that same sentence, "... but to find the spirit in which said policy is enacted or proposed." The same can also be said of lies. I.e., we should be just as sensitive to the difference in spirit / intention behind Kerry's distortions of the truth, which tell a more or less accurate story shaded by rhetorical flourishes, and those of Bush that make up the story as they go along. Of course, if you are in the "win at any cost" camp, due to a belief that Kerry is a pinko-traitor bent on supplying the fetuses that Cheney only eats, then obviously the distinction is a moot point. But for the rest of us ......